Greenshaw Learning Trust

CPD for free: Meet the open source academy trust

'We have a punk, entrepreneurial way of doing things'

From running a podcast to a book club, staff at the Greenshaw Learning Trust put aside hours of their time to share resources and ideas across the sector – without charging a penny. How did they do it? Jess Staufenberg finds out

We’ve all read the headlines: burned out teachers post-pandemic, leaving the profession in droves. With pupil learning loss and mental health to tackle, staff professional development hasn’t exactly been the top issue for schools.

This was worrying Rhiannon Rainbow, school improvement lead for maths at Greenshaw Learning Trust, as she and her colleagues launched online lessons at the start of Covid-19 in 2020.

“We were working on this online curriculum for students and we thought, ‘what about our colleagues?’

“With the nature of everything being so reactive day-to-day in the pandemic, we were concerned that CPD could become much less of a priority. So, we started looking at what we could do.”

The trust, which has 23 schools across the south-east including London and Gloucestershire, is now offering free inset days, a podcast, book club, secondment leadership programme and teaching resources.

If you’re on EduTwitter you will have probably spotted them posting links to the GLT & Friends Book Club or the Above & Beyond Podcast, garnering enthusiastic replies and retweets. Remarkably, everything is free.

A peruse of its website reveals more. Under the ‘CPD’ tab is a huge spreadsheet of links to video sessions with leading names in the sector, from Tom Sherrington to Katherine Birbalsingh.

They cover topics from governance to teaching assistants, international exchange programmes and tutoring – a vast directory at the click of a button.

TeacherTapp survey data shows 93 per cent of teachers believe CPD would make them better teachers. And they’re right.

Academic research reveals 35 hours of high-quality CPD a year is almost as impactful as placing a teacher with 10 years’ experience in front of students, according to the Education Policy Institute and Ambition Institute. It’s a highly cost-effective intervention.

The trust didn’t exactly set out to offer so much, explains Katherine Brown, assistant director for secondary education. In 2020, GLT was supporting four local authority schools across Plymouth – Montpelier Primary, Stoke Damerel College, Scott College and Sir John Hunt Community Sports College – when the council suggested a leadership development programme for schools across the city.

“We could see the need and so we went in with a sense of urgency,” says Brown. Headteachers across the trust were canvassed for their views and research literature was quickly revisited.

We went in with a sense of urgency

This included six texts that have influenced the trust’s leaders: Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo; Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed; Radical Candour by Kim Scott; Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman; The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling, and The 18 Challenges of Leadership by Trevor Waldock and Shenaz Kelly-Rawat.

By December 2021, the development programme was live. Leaders work through 35 modules around ‘seven principles of leadership’: intelligence, emotional intelligence, ambition, organisational alignment, resilience, risk management and professional credibility.

The leadership development platform was first rolled out across Plymouth

Each module comes with “pre-reading and pre-watching” including book chapters and blogs, says Brown, and includes a 30-minute lecture.

To ensure leaders take a targeted approach, they also undergo ‘The 360’ – a survey where they self-report and are assessed by colleagues on strengths and weaknesses.

“That then produces an individual analysis for that person, so they can target which modules they want to do,” says Brown. A headteacher can even get a 360 ‘team report’ on their senior leaders so they can see areas for improvement.

The programme is set to be nationally available this year.

My only critiques are that currently there’s no hard impact data about the programme (aside from GLT’s own strong school improvement track record) and the fact staff have to complete it in their own time after a hectic day.

But the trust offers aspiring leaders proper time out of their day jobs, too.

Schools Week spoke to Charlie Barnett, assistant headteacher at Wensleydale secondary school in Yorkshire, who got permission from his headteacher to join the trust’s six-week secondment programme from June 6 to July 15.

His school was able to find cover for his role, allowing him to work at Yate Academy in Gloucestershire (graded ‘good’), Brakenhale School in Berkshire (also graded ‘good’) and Blaise High School in Bristol (yet to be inspected).

“Each day I’d get a daily plan to visit lessons and meetings, and I was encouraged to problem-solve,” says Barnett. Such hands-on learning in three different contexts meant “the number of things I was able to do when I got back to my own school was just so fast and targeted”.

Aside from formal leadership programmes, the trust has grassroots projects aimed at classroom teachers, too. This was the focus of Rainbow and her fellow maths colleague Dave Tushingham, who launched the GLT

Rhiannon Rainbow GLT Friends Book Club co founder

After the first session, a teacher from outside the trust tweeted asking to join, and then one of the authors, maths expert Peter Mattock, asked to turn up too. Demand rocketed.

“We found very quickly that it grew way beyond maths,” says Rainbow.

The one-hourly sessions soon had 2,000 subscriber emails, and 49 book club sessions have been held with authors from David Didau to Mary Myatt to Doug Lemov.

The reason it works, continues Rainbow, is because it suits time-stretched teachers.

“I’m one for collecting books but I never get time to read them!” For Tushingham, he would buy books but didn’t always know “how to translate them into practice”. 

Emma Cave, assistant principal at Melksham Oak community school in Wiltshire, part of the White Horse Federation trust, says the “willingness of authors to engage” is invaluable.

“You can discuss your own context and I find it brings a real clarity to the spirit of their writing.” As a result, her school has now bought Middle Leadership Mastery by Adam Robbins for all its middle leaders.

Last but not least, Joe Ambrose, senior school improvement leader at GLT, launched its ‘Above & Beyond’ podcast in May, which introduces listeners to “inspirational individuals” outside education.

Joe Ambrose Above Beyond podcast creator

“My hypothesis was that there are patterns all excellent leaders follow,” Ambrose explains.

He has booked MPs, advertising executives and theatre producers, racking up about 1,500 subscribers.

Is this just a labour of love for teachers (since proving such a discursive podcast impacts pupil outcomes must surely be tricky)?

But Will Smith, chief executive at GLT, is clear on the benefits: “All this work energises our staff. It gives them a real sense of belonging to an organisation doing something competent and systematically good.”

All this work energises our staff

Of course, it also helps hugely with recruitment, he adds. “I see it as a good investment to put some money aside to employ people to curate this stuff.”

GLT couldn’t provide us with exact trust expenditure on CPD, but a spokesperson confirmed a small amount comes from the government’s Trust Capacity Fund and the rest is covered by its existing budget. “We definitely don’t have a big budget for outreach,” they added.

And the investment seems to work. Of the 12 schools inspected since joining the trust, 11 have been graded ‘good’ and one ‘outstanding’. The trust also has a Progress 8 score of 0.07.

Is it frustrating GLT is making so much available when others aren’t? After all, Oak National Academy got government funding to do exactly this – just weeks after GLT put all its own resources online. Other trusts also offer their services, but with a fee.

“We went live and then, yes, a week later, Oak suddenly popped up with government money funnelled in,” laughs Smith. He rang co-founder Matt Hood to discuss and says “it was fine – we did what we did, and they did what they did”. Hood didn’t take the idea from him, he adds.

Will Smith GLT chief executive with academies minister Baroness Barran

My other query is whether GLT’s offer is only being found by Twitter-happy teachers. Should there be a national hub of CPD?

But Ambrose has a word of warning. “As soon as people start to rubber stamp things, you lose a bit of that punk, entrepreneurial side of why you do things. I actually think the free market of ideas is currently still the best way to do it.”

When you rubber stamp CPD, you lose that entrepreneurial spirit

He agrees, however, that it would be good to see more schools release their time and resources freely in the way GLT does.

Smith concludes: “For us, this just isn’t distinct and separate from school improvement.”

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