Pre Reopening Message to parents 05 June 2020
Dear parents, 05 June 2020
I do hope you have remained safe and well and I wanted to offer a Trust update in conjunction to the letters I am sure you have received from individual Principals. Since hearing from central government about plans to reopen schools more widely, leaders have worked together to formulate recovery plans that I have no doubt been shared with you by now. In the middle of writing those procedures, Local Authorities distributed their own guidance which has ultimately superseded the DfE’s overall aim for reopening on 1st June. Each school has decided to work with the recommendations and timescales from their own Local Authorities and that additional time did give us all time to consider, consult and adapt the intricate policies and procedures staff had so carefully crafted.
Since that government announcement, Principals and senior leaders across each of our academies have worked tirelessly to produce risk assessments that allow for a safe reopening. Every detail of those have been shared and consulted upon. I feel proud and confident those plans are robust and that they provide measures to keep staff and children safe. Make no mistake, the plans that have been created took hours of work and although it is absolutely right that they are rigorous, Principals and leaders should be congratulated for their efforts and attention to detail. Those plans were shared with Local Governing Boards and I would like to thank each governor who provided specific and balanced feedback. I know leaders appreciated their forensic analysis. Finally, Trustees have also had the opportunity to read recovery plans and offer their feedback as well. There was an overwhelming sense of pride from all of our governors and Trustees regarding the work leaders have undertaken thus far. They felt confident that academies could reopen to those specific year groups and that leaders could provide environments that were as safe as possible.
Apart from a phased return, we are reopening all of our academies to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils in line with DfE guidance. There is, however, a great degree of variability across the country and Cheshire in particular. Nevertheless, leaders and governors feel confident academies can fulfil the government’s ambition to reopen safely. Last week, once all of the planning was complete, Principals, Chair of Local Governing Boards and Trustees held an extraordinary meeting to discuss whether they felt it was safe to reopen. There were open discussions about whether reopening was actually the right thing to do. All parties unanimously agreed that it was safe to do so as well as the correct time to reopen.
Across the all of our academies, we have had a great uptake from parents who have decided that it is indeed safe for their children to return. Many of them have written to Principals with clear endorsements. It is wonderful to feel we have your backing and trust. There have been considerable discussions about how schools might support your children’s mental health once they return. This is the longest period of time children will have gone without formal education; it is certainly longer than a summer holiday! They will have a lot to think about prior to any return. No doubt many of them have had lots of cuddles and affection since school closed and will be returning to a school where touching and holding hands may not be allowed in the short term; it is an extremely confusing time for children. No doubt it will be a big challenge for each of them. However, that said, I have every confidence our experienced teams of teachers and support staff in each academy will be able to carefully support their transition back into school and make it a success.
I want to thank parents for their support so far and would reiterate the fact that all the staff at each school are determined to reopen safely with all of the necessary precautions in place. Your children’s safety is clearly so important to us all. There may well be new rules and policies and I would ask that all parents follow these to the letter because it will enable all of our teams to continue to be safe during the remaining part of the term. We all need to do our part and be responsible in following the various school and government regulations.
Whether you have decided to allow your child/ren to return or taken the decision to keep them at home, I wish you all well in the coming weeks and months. The Trust has been there to support each school in making their plans so that staff and children can remain safe. Please be generous and patient with all our teams as they refine practices. They have worked incredibly hard to reopen.
CEO- Cheshire Academies Trust
This is quite possibly the best time of the year! The final week before Christmas. I know you are all rather tired but you have made such a difference the children in our Trust. The anticipation of finishing is always lovely, so savour it as I know you will have spent many hours going above and beyond for the pupils in your care. At this time of year relish the joy on pupil’s faces as they perform in their carol concerts, finish the sewing on their Victorian sampler or act in the nativity play. Christmas is a special time of the year for pupils. Let’s make the last week a time to remember.
Firstly, I want to share the news that Kate Doyle was appointed as the permanent Principal at Mill View. She has undertaken the role since Easter on secondment from Kelsall Primary School. The interview panel were extremely impressed with Kate’s vision for the school. She has worked so hard to make positive improvements to a great many aspects of the school; I know the staff have appreciated her support, leadership and positivity. Congratulations to Kate- we know she will continue to drive the school onwards and upwards.
A number of things have been happening across the Trust since October half term. The external audit has been completed and I am, once again, thankful to Luci Jones and Diane Walley for their continued tremendous work. All year groups moderated together with Mike Thompson to standardise our writing judgements. Feedback from teachers was again resoundingly positive. I am pleased that Manor Park staff also joined in as well and they continue to work closely with our Trust. SENCo’s, English subject leaders and assessment teams have found the time to work closely together. The impact in the classroom to our wonderful pupils focusses our discussions and hones our decision making.
Over the past term our new Cheshire Academies Trust website has been polished and updated to link to our CAT brand. There is still much to put on but it is a great start.
I have also been talking to a number of other schools who are interested in being a part of our Trust. While in their infancy, it shows that our values resonate with their own and without these commonalities possible collaboration would no doubt falter before it began. It is privilege to share some of the outcomes and collaborative events we are holding because they are so impressive. One such event at the end of January is the third annual public speaking event at Storyhouse in Chester. This supports our No Outsiders work and is integral to our value of inclusion.
At board level we have held our member’s AGM. There they heard about the financial performance of our Trust through the annual external audit. There have been standards and resources subcommittee meetings as well as two Trustee meetings. I am also pleased to announce that Peter Woodhouse has been appointed the Trust board. He was previously the chair of governors at Bexton Primary School. His experience in strategic planning will be valuable and we very much look forward to working with him.
At our half termly senior leadership team meeting, Principals and Vice Principals mapped out key Trust responsibilities. These can be seen below. We want to build leadership at all levels of our organisation and that also means providing opportunities for Principals and Vice Principals as well. I am holding one to one meetings with them all and creating succession and talent plans across the Trust so that we can identify, retain and promote capable and skilled professionals to support our ongoing development as we grow.
Finally, if you are not on Twitter, I would strongly recommend you sign up. There is a wealth of educational ideas and information. I can be found championing our Trust schools (@steveellis06) and generally commenting on good practice. There is so much to learn from looking outwards. Each teacher within the Trust has a personal target on their appraisal and I believe it is so important to challenge ourselves. To be self-aware are about our areas for improvement and to be able to think critically about our actions. We must continuously endeavour to improve. It is something we have drafted into the appraisal plan so that teachers constantly challenge themselves to be the best and make the biggest difference.
Our values are what bind us together. Together we are stronger. Together we achieve more. I very much look forward to working with you all and I wish you a very merry Christmas and happy new year. Please get in contact with me should have a great idea or simply want to share some of the wonderful work that has been going on in your classroom or school. I would be delighted to hear from you.
Thank you once again for your dedication and resolute determination to make a difference to the children in our care.
End of half term Message
As we draw to the end of half term, I wanted to provide an update on all of the wonderful things going on across our Trust. Since September, I have been so pleased with how our (relatively) new colleagues at Bexton have been warmly welcomed as partners into our Trust. Thank you to all of our staff who have actively gone out of their way to ensure the transition has been smooth. I know there are a number of WhatsApp groups where information has been shared, relationships built and connections made. As we grow, we will meet many new colleagues but our ethos of open and deep collaboration will always be there to drive improvement and offer support.
Across the half term, we have held a significant amount of collaborative meetings. It is important to me that staff understand and acknowledge the great work being undertaken to keep our schools one step ahead. We do that by sharing - openly. Our teams give information, support and knowledge cooperatively without the thought of receiving anything back. Selflessness should be the basis of every team’s relationship.
Since September, there have been meetings involving Senior Leadership Team, Early Years, SENCo, English leaders and more. All of these have impacted positively on individuals, systems and entire schools. As a Trust we have a clear strategic plan as well as three collaborative priorities that revolve around reading, assessment and curriculum. As we continue throughout the year, I recognise the commitment that staff are making to attending meetings face to face and while I would always prefer that, I am also mindful that we should consider the use of our IT infrastructure with Office365 to support online meetings where possible and convenient in order to maximise our time and minimise our costs.
An incredible amount of work, as always at this time of the year, has been undertaken in the school offices. Luci Jones and her teams have been extremely busy completing all manner of financial returns and gathering information for our annual audit. This work, to most of the teaching staff, goes unnoticed but it is so significant to the smooth running of our Trust. Thank you to all of our office teams and to Luci and Diane in particular.
There has been a significant decision taken at board level this term since September. Harry Ziman has taken the decision to step down as a Trustee at the end of this term and begin a well-earned retirement. Many of you, particularly at Kelsall, will know Harry and the incredible work and time he has so generously given to our Trust. He was one of the riving forces behind its inception and without him CAT wouldn’t be in the great position it now finds itself. On behalf of all of the board, schools, LGBs and communities – thank you Harry.
Finally, I hope you take time over the half term to relax, be with your families and friends and recharge your batteries ready for what will no doubt be another long term before the festive period. My daughter tells me I am not allow to say the C word yet as its only October.
Thank you for your continued dedication and commitment.
Welcome back to the new school year. I do hope your first day back with the children was a relaxed and productive one. As we start the new term I wanted to provide some updates on the work that has been going on behind the scenes and to also tell you about some of the many collaborative partnerships and meetings that we have planned.
As I discussed on the first INSET day, one of the most important aspects of my work is to ensure all of our many teams are looked after and that your wellbeing is high up on leader’s agendas. With that in mind, I will be sending out a survey which allows you to comment on the specific activities that teachers and staff complete which take up the most time. Hopefully that will be teaching and learning, planning and assessment (which is as it should be) but getting the right balance is difficult and ensuring the correct work life balance for teachers especially is imperative. I appreciate that teaching is a difficult job, but I know you would all agree that it is very rewarding and staff wellbeing is certainly something leader should be focussing on.
Over the summer the holiday we have been busy writing the Trust development plan and I shared this with you during our day together at Bexton. The six key areas breakdown the overall two-year strategy for our Trust. We are aiming to be more than eight schools working and collaborating together within two years. Growth is important for us for two main reasons. Firstly, it gives us the opportunity collaborate with other great teachers and schools. I am privileged to be able to work with a number of schools across Cheshire East and West and they provide some fabulous experiences for their children. We can and should be learning from them, assimilating their skills and knowledge to share across our Trust. Together we should be an outward facing Trust looking for the best practice. While we are all doing a superb job, there are other schools doing amazing things as well and we must find them and learn from them. Secondly, as we grow this provides us the strength and stability required over the longer term future. As governments come and go and politicians change their focus from one initiative to the next, we will continue to keep a consistent vision and our values will determine our policies. While I appreciate they do bend towards government initiatives, hopefully we can adapt them to suit our collective vision. The pupils, staff and communities of this Trust, I know, will demand consistency and a focus on what is best for them over the long term.
I will be visiting schools constantly throughout the year to work with leaders, teachers and staff to support them to improve. We can all improve and we all make mistakes- that’s how we learn. Be kind to yourselves as you make those mistakes because I know we all work so hard, over many hours and Sunday nights we prepare meticulously for the lessons we teach or the staff meetings we prepare. My initial visits this year will be to look at safeguarding procedures and the single central record (a spreadsheet of all the different checks that must be carried out on anyone who works in regulated activity with children). Keeping children safe is all of our concern and our first priority. After that my visits will focus on a variety of aspects of the school’s work including school improvement plans, quality of teaching and pupils’ thoughts. We must listen to pupil’s thoughts and ideas about our schools regularly, as more often than not they are wonderfully insightful. I look forward to chatting to everyone- getting to know everyone and seeing the many wonderful activities going on throughout the year. If you have something amazing for me to see, please get in touch and invite me to come and see.
Over the course of the year we have meetings planned for many of you to get together and share. SENCOs, year groups, pupil premium leads, senior leaders, catering teams, finance teams and many more. These are so important as collaborative practice drives school improvement. Leaders have the dates of these meetings but they are also on a Trust calendar for you all to see.
Finally, I wish you well for the rest of the year and hope you all have a wonderful time, collaborating, teaching, counselling, sharing, creating together and all the other amazing jobs you all do on a daily basis. I will be here to help as will Luci Jones, our superb Director of Operations, alongside her team to support with any financial, HR or premises related issues.
Best wishes to you all,