Aurora Academies Trust share their approach and how they use Optimus resources.
A coherent approach to CPD across the trust
An important part of developing this improvement-focused culture was to change existing processes so that they focused more sharply on the quality of teaching and learning. Weekly staff meetings, for instance, no longer focus on administrative arrangements and other usual business, but are taken as an opportunity for professional development: staff might share a particular strategy that worked well in recent lessons, or take the time to discuss a new educational development. Similarly, in addition to the GLI programme in which senior leaders take part, a trust-wide conference is run for middle leaders annually to celebrate successes and to provide important input on priorities for development across Aurora’s schools.
While this focus on leadership has been important to the turnaround of the schools within the trust, classroom teachers are also well provided for. Every member of staff has an action research project which they will work on, normally for the duration of a year – they’ll then present these results across the MAT at a September conference. Importantly, this is designed for all staff to participate, including support staff: teaching assistants present alongside other teaching staff on the results of their research project. To support this ongoing process of development, all staff also have an individual personal development plan (IPDP) which outlines their priorities over the coming year. The IPDP normally dovetails with the topic of the action research project, so that any research the teacher is undertaking will directly connect with what they need to improve. This multi-level approach to planning CPD is loose enough for the individual schools and staff to set their own priorities, but tight enough that it embeds a sense of professional identity which is trust-wide and that allows for the sharing of best practice across all the trust’s schools, not just within school walls.
Retaining and growing staff
One of the advantages of working within a trust is the flexibility it can give staff to progress. Because teachers can work across or transfer between schools, Aurora’s structure has allowed them to develop their staff within the MAT: ‘there can be a promotional route for teachers that doesn’t involve them leaving the trust’, explains the Executive Headteacher. The emphasis that Aurora places on professional development activities also strengthens the ability to engage and retain staff: ‘we’ve invested in their development, and staff can see that.’ Importantly, their CPD structure allows for contributions from outside experts – making sure the trust is looking out as well as in. Attending Optimus’s MATs summit, for instance, gave the trust’s executive leadership team ideas to successfully maintain and improve the trust, and this experience has formed the basis for some of their own internal training.
As Unlimited members, they also access Optimus’s In-House Training resources, which are used for the same purpose of ensuring their internal training is high-quality and doesn’t take too long to put together. Having run sessions on the basis of the SEND Inclusive Teaching Programme, Successful Middle Leadership and other Optimus training courses, this removes the need to create resources from scratch, ‘so ultimately saves us an awful lot of time’. Aurora have also made sure to include staff from each of the individual schools in the membership, so relevant resources are being used both at the trust level and on a school basis. Where appropriate, Aurora also welcome local authority advisors and other experts to give input into their training. The idea is that by combining internal, home-grown expertise with external support it will ultimately produce a more powerful and targeted end product.
Making the right decisions
CPD leaders in almost all schools talk about the difficulty of balancing schools’ strategic priorities with individual staff’s needs. For Aurora, a distributed leadership model has proven an effective way of coordinating these two priorities. Heads of school operate the day-to-day management of schools, reporting to the executive headteacher, who in turn reports to the CEO. In this model heads of school are expected to take ownership for decisions, and can give their input to help set trust-wide priorities. When it comes to deciding what to focus on for training, a rough CPD programme is planned in June by the executive team, but individual schools and staff are asked to give feedback – it becomes a two way process. A trust-wide survey used for evaluating CPD also provides a place where teachers can comment and share priorities. Leading professional development across a trust will always be different to running it in a single school. But by focusing on what needs to be improved first, and getting the structures in place to make sure CPD has an impact, Aurora have found a solution that works across their schools.