Leadership

CEO mentoring is a simple way to strengthen the school system

The experience of our mentoring relationship has convinced us that this mutually beneficial practice is an accessible way to improve outcomes for all

The experience of our mentoring relationship has convinced us that this mutually beneficial practice is an accessible way to improve outcomes for all

17 Jun 2024, 5:00

Crompton House Multi Academy Trust was created in January 2019.  At this time, the trust was made up of just one school: Crompton House Secondary School. In September 2019 a local primary converted to become an academy and joined the trust. Growth stalled during the pandemic, but in the past academic year, two additional schools have joined, with two more in the process of joining. 

Throughout the history of the trust, Karl Newell has held the dual role of headteacher and CEO.   This seems like a typical model for small embryonic trusts, and initially the dual role seemed relatively manageable.

Until recently, it has never been very clear exactly what regular activities a CEO should undertake.  Then, with the addition of the two new schools this year, his role changed slightly, and Karl became executive headteacher for the secondary school and CEO of the Trust.  Karl found this gave him a little more time to start thinking strategically and to put more robust, trust-wide systems in place.  

To help Karl better understand the role, he completed a 12-month CEO course, which was interesting but very theoretical. It provided him with plenty of food for thought about how best to integrate business and educational models. However, it was very light on the practicalities concerned with the day-to-day running of a trust. 

It was at this point that Karl decided to approach me to ask if I had the capacity to be his mentor for a year. Karl knew I had similar values to his as we’d met through various Oldham education networks. Crompton House Trust had also used some of Focus Trust’s responsive professional development for their primary schools.

A former primary headteacher, I have been CEO of Focus-Trust since March 2015. Initially, I was unsure how my primary-only experience could benefit Karl but, having had an initial conversation and shared some of the early lessons learned, I agreed to be his mentor.

We both come away enriched by the experience each time

In Focus-Trust, we have a well-established culture of collective efficacy which is a shared commitment to work together on the things that matter to improve outcomes for all. So not only did mentoring Karl echo with our values, but I could see that doing so could potentially broaden my impact on children, colleagues and communities beyond our own schools.

The agenda is Karl’s to set, and we discuss his current or forthcoming priorities. As I prepare for my meetings with him and during our conversations, I am able to reflect on the impact our work has had on our colleagues, children and communities. I’m also able to share where I wish I’d have done things differently – or not at all!

Though focused on Karl’s current thinking and practices, the learning is definitely two-way and the sessions are mutually beneficial.

Although it’s only a few hours, once a half term for half a day, we both come away enriched by the experience each time. Karl maintains that he always leaves with multiple ideas about how he can further strengthen and develop his trust, and the opportunity to reflect on my practice never fails to focus my thinking too.

The array of topics we’ve covered is vast. This is not an exhaustive list, but they include culture, strategic planning, trust-wide safeguarding, roles and responsibilities of the trust operational team, governance, how best to structure trust board meetings, MAT dashboards, data collection, marketing and social media.

There is no doubt the experience has benefitted both of our trusts and will continue to do so.

So, if you’re a CEO who’s relatively new to the post or whose job description is evolving along with the trust, then reach out to someone who’s been there. And if you’re a CEO with hard-won experience of growth and consolidation, don’t hesitate to offer your support. 

Ultimately, cross-trust collaboration can only strengthen our education system and make the difference for our children and young people – and that’s a culture that must start at the top.   

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