Inspiration boss Rachel de Souza urges heads: 'Do not be servants of DfE policy'

The boss of a high-profile academy trust has urged headteachers “not to be servants of DfE policy”, or take no for an answer from civil servants over issues such as extra funding.

Rachel de Souza, chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, told heads in Cumbria to “learn political skills” to improve struggling schools in rural and coastal regions such as her own in Norfolk and theirs in the north west.

Speaking at the Northern Lights conference in Carlisle, de Souza told heads not to be “servants of DfE policy” and to “create it, make it, do it” themselves.

“Don’t be passive recipients of a ‘no’ […] Use your political skills to improve the north. You need to get the DfE to work for you.”

It comes as her trust, which was chaired by academies minister Lord Agnew until August 2018, recently blasted Ofsted for hitting one of its schools with a special measures grade.

The trust has claimed inspectors who visited Great Yarmouth primary academy “don’t understand the data” and de Souza has said the findings from the report are “wrong in fact and law”.

It has also been accused by union leaders of getting a “rehearsal before the real deal” after complaining about an Ofsted inspection at another of its primary schools, resulting in an additional inspection and an improved report.

In her talk today, the chief executive said she expected heads to have read about her protests in the press and urged them not to take situations they disagreed with lying down but “stand up and shout”.

Heads should “use their political skills to improve the north”, she said, adding it was “early days” for improving education in the north similar to the “early days” of education in Norfolk before the Inspiration Trust.

De Souza also gave some insight into her plans for the Inspiration Trust, explaining she thought the trust is “big enough, perhaps one or two schools more but that’s it”.

“I believe in the middle-sized trust,” she said, urging for “driveability” between schools, and “knowing each other’s names”.

Heads in turnaround schools should be freed from worrying about finances and able to concentrate on education, de Souza added.

However heads in Inspiration meet to decide collectively on how the top-sliced money from their budget is used by the trust, she added.

“Our principals work like a board […] If we’ve got a modern headship crisis we need to learn to do things differently.”