Locality Matters: Understanding the challenge of how to support educationally isolated schools - A case study of a multi-academy trusts 'Hub Model' for schools (2019-

Ovenden-Hope, Tanya and Passy, Rowena (2023) Locality Matters: Understanding the challenge of how to support educationally isolated schools - A case study of a multi-academy trusts 'Hub Model' for schools (2019-. [Report]

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Executive Summary The concept of Educational Isolation refers to a situation in which a school has limited access to resources because of the challenges related to its location. The combined elements of geographical remoteness, socioeconomic deprivation and cultural isolation in the school’s area have a direct effect on teacher recruitment, retention, staff development, school to school support and external opportunities for additional funding. Educational Isolation affects pupil outcomes In England, Educational Isolation is common in rural and coastal areas, where poverty and social exclusion are significant concerns. Location matters. Rural and coastal areas in England face infrastructural challenges, socioeconomic issues, and limited employment opportunities, negatively affecting housing, transport, technology, and leisure. In 2020, 19% of all primary and 16% of secondary schools in England were in a rural-coastal location. Pupils from persistently disadvantaged backgrounds in rural-coastal school have lower attainment at the end of secondary schooling than pupils from similar backgrounds in urban schools. This report shares findings from a three-year research project (2019 – 2022) focused on a ‘hub model’ for schools implemented in a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT, also referred to as Trust) consisting of 20 primary schools in the South West of England. The Hub model was used to geographically group schools into smaller units for school-to-school support with the aim of reducing the negative effects of Educational Isolation experienced by many of the schools. The research team interviewed senior leaders within the MAT, including headteachers, Hub Leads, the outgoing and incoming CEOs, and the COO, each year for three years. The MAT's vision was to give a better education to children through the sharing of resources, expertise, and knowledge at a local level. The CEO believed that smaller groups of schools – hubs of schools - could achieve this vision. The key successes of the Hub model for the MAT were: • The development of trusted, supportive local relationships. • Collaboration within the Hubs to the benefit of the whole MAT. • Quality of communication. Developing supportive, trusted relationships was considered the most significant success of the Hub model. School leaders appreciating the non-judgmental, local support that helped reduce feelings of isolation inherent in a school leader role (feelings exacerbated by geographical remoteness from other schools). Collaboration was also considered a great achievement of the Hub model for sharing knowledge, expertise, and resources, particularly during the pandemic and with schools in close geographical proximity that understood the context of the community. The ethos of sharing and supporting matured and flourished during the three years of the Hub model. School leaders were pleased with the quality of communication throughout the MAT, which facilitated better coordination and alignment of policy and practice across schools. Ofsted visits were a key area where communication, collaboration and resource-sharing occurred. Overall, school leaders in the MAT expressed support for the Hub model and a desire to make it work. However, challenges of the Hub model were identified and related to three broad themes: • Context • Clarity • Capacity The context of each Hub of schools was different, with some hubs having more geographical distance between schools, some having schools with differing contexts e.g. size and faith, and other having differential experience of headteachers; which resulted in some cases in a lack of sharing of expertise within Hubs, uneven opportunities for CPD, and a need for more rigour in school improvement processes at MAT level. The Hub Lead role was seen to lack clarity, with Hub Leads required to undertake multiple roles e.g., as headteacher as well as Hub Lead, and the conflicting priorities that can arise from this. Line management was also raised as a concern by school leaders, who were unsure of the Hub Lead role in the appraisal process. Capacity was another issue raised, with school leaders expressing concerns over Hub Leads’ workload, and headteachers being pulled away from their responsibilities for Hub meetings or visits. Most school leaders interviewed agreed that the Hub model would benefit from review, particularly with the increase in the number of schools joining the MAT in the next academic year. Identifying best practices within Hubs and sharing that information across the MAT was seen as a way to bring more rigour to the school improvement processes. The appointment of a new CEO and COO during the last year of this research project, and the announcement of a new White Paper by the Department for Education, brought changes to the MAT. The White Paper requires MATs to meet certain criteria to be considered a 'strong Trust', including providing robust CPD routes, high standards of curriculum, attendance, and behaviour, targeted catch-up support. The Hub model was seen to contribute to this in part. The new CEO and COO had an embryonic vision to address policy direction, which included introducing a fifth Hub, creating networks for small and church schools, separating the school improvement model from the Hub model, and possibly bringing in subject networks for school improvement. The findings suggest that the Hub model is able to mitigate the effects of Educational Isolation in different ways. Putting the schools into small, geographically focused hubs of school supported the MAT in reducing the effects of geographical remoteness, creating formal connections for staff development, sharing of resources (including teachers) and opportunities to work together to submit applications for innovative external funding. The sharing of ideas for more effective school improvement helped to mitigate elements of socioeconomic deprivation in school communities, such a lower attainment. This included schools working together in their Hub to provide new opportunities for children that widened their experiences to raise aspirations. It also reduced cultural isolation, an issue that was particularly difficult to address during the pandemic years because of the restrictions on movement. Headteachers, Hub Leads, and executive leaders in the MAT agreed on the successes and challenges of the Hub model for supporting Educationally Isolated schools. The key message is that small groups of schools working together in commutable geographic proximity supports school improvement. Our recommendation is that large MATs with Educationally Isolated schools consider a hub model as it supports school leaders accessing the resources needed for school improvement at a local level. We also recommend that policy leaders recognise and respond to needs of Educationally Isolated schools. Locality matters.

Item Type: Report
Depositing User: Ms Raisa Burton
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2024 09:52
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2024 09:52
URI: https://marjon.repository.guildhe.ac.uk/id/eprint/17742

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