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England’s largest review into school staff perceptions suggests the growing appreciation of trusts is supported by strong internal communication and a shared vision and values

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Multi-academy trust popularity soars amongst teachers and school leaders following school closures 

A new report, comprising the views of more than 10,000 staff members in multi-academy trusts across England, has revealed increasing numbers of school staff value belonging to a trust as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on education.

In total, the proportion of staff who feel either ‘completely’ or ‘very’ confident about the benefits of trust membership has steadily increased, from 38 per cent to 44 per cent; whilst the proportion of staff who are ‘not confident at all’ has dropped by almost half, from 18 per cent to 10 per cent.

Confidence improved the most amongst administrative staff (12 per cent) and middle leadership (10 per cent). Almost two thirds of senior leaders agreed that trust membership was advantageous, reflecting an increase of seven per cent. The same increase was reported amongst teachers (seven per cent).

Analysing data submitted both before and during Covid-19-related disruption, the findings suggest that efforts of trusts around the country during the pandemic contributed to a positive shift in perception. Researchers explored three key contributing factors, including communication, addressing staff needs and the integration of trust vision and values.

Key findings in the report include: 

  • 42 per cent of respondents said they are ‘completely’ or ‘quite’ confident that the trust actively works to address the professional needs of staff, with a further 31 per cent reporting ‘moderate’ levels of confidence. Looking at the different roles within the school, 59 per cent of senior leaders supported this statement, however only 39 per cent of teachers agreed.
  • 50 per cent of respondents were ‘very’ or ’quite’ satisfied with the communication between the trust and school staff in general and less than 10 per cent were dissatisfied, with 75 per cent of staff rating the frequency of communication as ‘about the right amount’.
  • Seven in 10 school staff are clear on – and, crucially, agree with – their trust’s vision and values, with a majority (58 per cent) of respondents reporting that these are embedded into the wider school culture.

Whilst there is a general trend in positive perceptions, the report also identifies areas for improvement. For example, only 23 per cent of respondents think it is easy to communicate their concerns to trust leadership. Additionally, comments from some respondents indicate that there seems to be a lack of understanding of the appropriate channels for sharing their thoughts with the trust. There as also a decline (four per cent) noted in teaching assistants’ confidence that being part of a trust was advantageous.

Conducted by school stakeholder surveying company, Edurio, the report compared responses of its staff well-being and working conditions survey from September 2019 – March 2020 (the ‘Pre-Covid’ group) and the Autumn term of 2020 (the ‘During Covid’ group).

Leora Cruddas, CEO at Confederation of School Trusts, said:

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“This significant shift in perceptions would be noteworthy in any year, but it should be applauded even more so given the upheaval of 2020 and the many challenges posed by school closures and remote learning. As we have all come to appreciate this year, teachers and education staff have been integral to supporting pupils, schools, families and communities throughout this extremely difficult time.

“In turn, trusts have facilitated this outstanding response by supporting staff with safeguarding, interpreting Covid-19 guidelines and developing remote lessons to help minimise learning loss wherever possible. Edurio’s findings highlight the excellence unlocked by academy trust membership for schools across the country, illustrating what school staff can achieve when working in collaboration with colleagues and belonging to a wider culture that can help foster resilience in the face of adversity.”

Sir David Carter, Executive Director of System Leadership at Ambition Institute, and former National Schools Commissioner said:

“More than anything, this report has revealed that those trusts who are great employers and who are outward facing have played a role that exceeds their own normal capacity to make a difference – not only to the children that they are responsible for but also many other children in schools in their community who are not part of the trust.

“The efficiency, professional expertise and effectiveness of many trust responses during the pandemic has been impressive.  For many organisations, this experience will become the cornerstone of the next strategic journey.”

Ernest Jenavs, co-author of the research report and CEO of Edurio, said:

“From livestreaming lessons into living rooms and delivering food parcels to the doors of the most vulnerable families, we have all witnessed the incredible efforts of teachers and school staff over the last year.

“Our report, ‘Trusting in Trusts: How school staff perceptions of multi-academy trust leadership have changed during the Covid-19 pandemic’ found academy trusts were able to strategically utilise their shared resources to generate fast, creative responses to an unpredictable situation. It also identified some key areas on which trusts can improve upon going forward including enhanced professional development opportunities for teaching assistants and administrative workers.”

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