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Trusting in tech

Karen Mackay, managing director of Erudition Schools Trust, tells Academy Today about their tech-led, personalised ethos

Posted by Stephanie Broad | June 29, 2015 | People, policy, politics

The Erudition Schools Trust (EST) is a UK-based, not-for-profit academy sponsor that takes a pioneering and progressive approach to a number of like-minded schools across the Midlands, including The Charles Coddy Walker Academy in Walsall, The Queen Elizabeth Academy in Atherstone and The Innovation School Stoke, in Stoke-on-Trent. These schools are like-minded in their desire to harness technology to enhance pupils’ engagement with and enjoyment of learning.

An underlining ethos of the Trust is to teach children the way they like to learn. By offering access to the latest technological facilities and thinking to all children, from STEM Labs to iPads, interactive whiteboards to virtual learning environments, the Trust ensures that no child is left behind. In doing so, the Trust raises the aspirations of all its pupils by empowering them to believe that equal access to technology – regardless of background or family circumstance – will lead to equal opportunity. 

What are the main challenges, and joys, of running and sponsoring an academy trust in today’s education sector?

A highlight of running EST is being able to empower staff to shake things up and recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ style of teaching is ineffective. We are able to take advantage of changes in legislation, and our own unique position as a sponsor, to address budget shortfalls and transform schools that have been let down by Local Authorities and inadequately funded for years. 

Of course, transitioning from state to sponsor isn’t without its challenge. As a sponsor, we are able to tackle deep-seated cultures that accept or turn a blind eye to poor performance. We are unafraid to make the tough decisions that contribute towards pupils’ enhanced opportunity and outcomes.  

How does the academy trust operate in terms of working across different schools with different challenges, specialisms and opportunities?

EST is proud of its diverse group of schools and the unique opportunities they represent for the communities they serve. From Innovation School Stoke, which supports and nurtures some of the UK’s most disadvantaged and disengaged young people to return to learning, to The Queen Elizabeth Academy in Atherstone, North Warwickshire, which is preparing to start building a brand new state of the art school as part of the Government’s Priority School Building Programme. In turn, The Charles Coddy Walker Academy in Walsall is working with families and external agencies to celebrate its diversity and create a sense of community cohesion and togetherness. Meanwhile, EST’s newest addition, Kingsbury School, boasts some of the region’s best GCSE results year on year and is soon to announce the appointment of a new Principal.

What are the real success stories from across the schools in the trust? 

Lord David Puttnam made a very powerful point in his speech that officially opened Innovation School Stoke. For children on the special educational needs spectrum or with various circumstantial barriers to learning, who have been let down badly by the education system, it’s not always about the big wins but the small, seemingly insignificant breakthrough moments that can matter most. The first time a young person with autism and agoraphobia, who has been disengaged from mainstream education for years, steps through our door and puts their trusts in their teacher represents a turning point in their life.

For Charles Coddy Walker Academy, perhaps one of the biggest success stories to date is setting our mantra and working tirelessly to see it realised. ‘Together we all make a difference’ recognises the importance of parent partnerships and community engagement.

When we took on Charles Coddy Walker Academy, we accessed additional funding, embedded a new working culture and philosophy to learning, provided each child with their own tablet or laptop and recently appointed a fantastic new head. A recent poll confirmed that 98.7% of parents feel confident that their child is safe and happy at Charles Coddy Walker Academy. 

Could you tell us more about your online education platform, Personalised Learning?

Personalised Learning is created around the individual, for the individual and takes into consideration ability, interests, potential, learning preferences and support network. The online education platform allows learners to work through their chosen subjects in a range of interactive tasks, receive real time support via a virtual tutor, track progress, identify areas for improvement and engage with education in a meaningful way. And it’s not just students who benefit from Personalised Learning, EST teachers also use the portals to complete their CPD and extend their knowledge and expertise.

As an affiliate organisation of the world’s largest online learning provider, K12, we are in a unique position to champion a blended, personalised learning approach that is already benefiting teachers and pupils across the Trust’s family.

How do you feel the new government’s agenda for schools will benefit the trust in the future?

The expansion enabling all schools to become academies, combined with plans to create an additional 500 free schools, equals more opportunity for the Trust to enter into discussions with progressive and aspirational schools, brave enough to challenge education orthodoxy in order to better support their pupils. In turn, there is now increased emphasis on non-acceptance of coasting schools. EST supports this zero-tolerance approach to mediocracy and anticipates the Government’s campaign to drive up standards will work in the Trust’s favour. It will do so by encouraging schools that are currently rated as ‘Requires Improvement’ by Ofsted, of which there are in excess of 3,500, to explore alternative avenues to transform performance and deliver education that has the ability to open up new doors of opportunity for children, bridge the gaps in inequality and lay the foundations for happy and successful lives. 

A focus on modern languages also represents an opportunity for the Trust to expand its Personalised Learning platform and make providing multiple language lessons financially viable for all schools.

What are your plans for expansion and growth?

Our strategy is to maintain our family focus to school sponsorship. For us, this means working with schools that can in turn, draw upon their contrasting specialisms and support each other. Having a regional focus will support this nurturing approach to school collaboration and improvement.

Our growth plans include identifying suitable schools in the Midlands to join the Trust’s family. We’re hoping to add between two and six more schools to the Trust over the next five years.

Erudition Schools Trust is made up of a team of experts who have a genuine passion for learning and providing children with the best possible start in life. The future success of the Trust is dependent upon this team, and the schools they work with, and I’m confident that we won’t fail in our mission to bring progressive, 21st century education to the children and young people we have the privilege to support. 

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