Schools North East launches Roadmap to Reopening at Academies Conference 2021

5th February 2021

With keynote speakers including Baroness Berridge, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, DfE, and National Schools Commissioner Dominic Herrington in attendance, Schools North East launched the Roadmap to Reopening with practical steps to the safe and sustained reopening of schools.

Academies 2021 opened with over 300 school leaders from across the region and beyond registered to attend the two day event. Introducing the conference to delegates, Schools North East Director Chris Zarraga emphasised that it is crucial that the government takes this opportunity to reset relations with our schools and, in particular, to trust in the expertise of our school leaders.

To this end, Schools North East has launched a ‘Roadmap to Reopening’, based on the foundational principles of our Manifesto for North East Education. This roadmap advises practical steps to avoid a return to the chaos that marked the autumn term and the start of spring term, and to ensure that our schools, staff, and students are properly supported and protected.

Chris Zarraga said ‘Schools desperately need an official ‘roadmap’ to reopening, with clear guidance, expectations and a Plan B/ C/ D if necessary, that will allow our school leaders to respond flexibly to local circumstances. The government must utilise local knowledge and accept that no one-size model can fit all. 

Any roadmap must be firmly built on consultation with schools.  Utilising the expertise and professional judgement of the teaching profession, particularly school leaders, is key.  Achieving successful reopening will require that timely notice and guidance is given to schools.  Most importantly, all policy decisions must protect schools as vital national strategic infrastructure, looking towards a successful and sustained return of all children and young people to the classroom.’

Key figures in attendance at the conference included Baroness Berridge, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, who praised the performance of North East academy leaders, highlighting a number of trusts in particular through case studies. Baroness Berridge also provided an update on Opportunity North East and the Lord Glenamara awards, now open for nominations, which celebrate the successes of school staff in the region.

Addressing the strained relationship between the Department for Education and the teaching profession Baroness Berridge said that the department is keen and prepared to listen to school leaders, and asked Schools North East and delegates to highlight any groups who they felt are currently not involved in conversations, so that they could be involved going forward.

On Day 2 of the conference Dominic Herrington, National Schools Commissioner, reflected on what we have seen from the pandemic, and how it has highlighted strengths of the Trust system, including communication with school communities,wellbeing and connection with staff; flexible and fast delivery of teaching and support, ability to share best practice and their focus on the most vulnerable children and young people. He acknowledged the powerful regional identity of the North East and the strong voice of the region due to collaboration. The National Schools Commissioner also responded to Schools North East’s Roadmap to Reopening, committing to reading the recommendations and feeding these into conversation at the Department for Education.

The principles of the Roadmap to Reopening include a joined up approach, across local government, healthcare and education, as well as placing trust in the professional judgement of the teaching profession. This was a key theme reflected in the conference, acknowledged in particular by keynote speaker Lord Jim Knight, who illustrated the huge amount of DfE guidance published throughout the pandemic, suggesting that this shows too much dictation to the profession and therefore, a lack of trust in school leaders and teachers. Lord Knight went on to say that he profoundly believes that they should be trusted, especially considering their heroic effort over the last year, and that an organisation that doesn’t trust its members is highly toxic. Lord Knight also asked how that trust can be rebuilt, which is a key aspect of the Roadmap to Reopening, asking policymakers to take this opportunity to repair their relationship with the profession, and avoid the stress and discord caused by late announcements and u-turns.

This theme continued through the panel debate on ‘authentic leadership’ with panellists Leora Cruddas, Maura Regan, Mike Butler, Lord Jim Knight, Marc Jordan and Steve Taylor, chaired by Colin Lofthouse, CEO, SMART Academy Trust and Schools North East Trustee. As well as discussing the characteristics of what makes an authentic leader, panellists agreed that the profession needs to be listened to, with the collaborative work happening in organisations such as the Confederation of School Trusts, The Queen Street Group and Schools North East amplifying the voice of the profession.

Beyond the Roadmap to Reopening, Schools North East is working on a regional recovery plan and will reflect the views of North East school leaders on what this should look like. Schools North East has also been conveying these key messages to MPs in an effort to make school voices heard, through our MP Roundtables which have seen MPs engage directly with our school leaders.

The annual Academies conference also saw a number of inspiring, informative and practical sessions from practitioners at the chalkface as well as key figures in the education sector:

Regional update from the RSC North Katherine Cowell, Regional Schools Commissioner for the North, Department for Education
Rapid Trust Expansion: A CEO and Head Teacher view Maura Regan, Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust and Paula Strachan, St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School
Ensuring Compliance & Delivering Savings Louise Levy and Julie Collins, The Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust
Adventures into learning Hywel Roberts, Travelling Teacher, Writer, Humourist, Speaker & Storyteller
An evolution of school leadership development Tom Rees, Executive Director for School Leadership at Ambition Institute
CEO collaboration: shaping the future of education Marc Jordan, CEO, Creative Education Trust and Steve Taylor, CEO of Cabot Learning Federation
Working effectively with Trade Unions Graham Vials, Head of Education Law at Ward Hadaway Remote learning, curriculum and EIF Lee Owston, Programme Director, Schools Inspection and Improvement, Ofsted
Leora Cruddas, CEO, Confederation of Schools Trust & Henri Murison, Director, The Northern Powerhouse Partnership
Another key theme from many of the speakers at Academies 2021 was acknowledging the incredible work of our school leaders. We know that the last 12 months has been undoubtedly the most difficult year our schools have ever faced. However, it must be remembered that it is also the most successful one that they have ever had. No matter what has been thrown at our schools and their staff, they have never yet failed to overcome it. They have done what was asked of them and what was needed, time and time again. While the need for trusting our school leaders has never been greater, the evidence that they can be trusted has never been greater either. Schools North East is incredibly proud to be associated with the people who have played such a critical role in our country’s response to this challenge.and who have truly have been the ‘4th emergency service’.