In March 2022, the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) and Edurio partnered on a far-reaching sector survey of academy trust accounting officers. Questions explored overall strategic priorities of trusts in England and assessed key areas of school trust operations. In June 2023, we will be re-running the survey to see how things have changed following another eventful year for the sector.
Ahead of the launch, in this blog, we will summarise what we learned last year, highlight some developments in the sector since the survey ran, and will outline what’s to come in the upcoming survey.
In this blog:
- What is the CST National School Trust Survey?
- Trust leaders’ top priorities for 2022/23
- How to take part in this year's National CST School Trust Report
- Who are CST?
What is the CST National School Trust Survey?
The questions are created by Edurio's survey experts and the CST team, and last year were completed by 328 Trust accounting officers – the chief executives personally responsible to Parliament for their trusts.
The survey helps to shed light on trusts' key priorities and the potential challenges the people in charge anticipate facing over the coming academic year. The survey gathers reliable insights into where trusts are in their development and what they expected their priorities and challenges to be in the future.
These insights allow CST to even more effectively advocate for trusts by fully understanding the challenges they face and their priorities moving forward. They also act as a great reference point for school and trust leaders to see the general direction of education and to compare their own trusts' priorities with the rest of the sector, and trusts of similar sizes.
Trust leaders’ top priorities for 2022/23
By far the largest priority for the sector was improving quality of education, with trust growth, workforce development and people strategy, and financial sustainability listed as significant priorities too.
Improving quality of education
Improving quality of education was, unsurprisingly, highlighted as the number one priority for the sector. When asked what area of education quality they expected to find the greatest challenge in this academic year, SEND support came out on top, with 28% of CEOs reporting that this would be the most challenging.
In the report, we heard from trusts on why they feel that SEND support is one of the most challenging areas for their trusts.
"Huge energy will be taken up responding to LA cuts to SEND top-up funding of 14%. This will detract from the capacity to focus on school improvement as it will necessitate remodelling work. We are a MAT of special schools. This level of funding cut is catastrophic."
"As a group of schools for pupils with complex needs and no specific teacher training route to teach the multi-disciplinary practice required of teaching staff who support our pupils, a bespoke Induction/CPD package and comprehensive curriculum framework/staff handbook are essential to support recruitment/ retainment in the most challenging settings"
Funding concerns, training, and CPD challenges are some of the main reasons for SEND support being listed as one of the main challenges for schools and trusts. CST, in partnership with Ambition Institute, has built on these findings, and is working to pursue the case for greater dignity for pupils and adults with learning disabilities, as set out in Ben Newmark and Tom Rees’s compelling Bridge to the Future Paper, A Good Life.
Growth was also highlighted as an area trusts expected to have the most significant challenges; the largest of trusts expected this to present a challenge, whilst a much smaller proportion expected improving the quality of education, and workforce development and people strategy, to be a challenge. Given the changing priorities of the sector this year, it will be of great interest to see how these priorities have changed heading into 2023/24.
Through its presence on the Department for Education’s regulatory and commissioning review, CST has taken the views of trusts to government, calling for greater clarity on how the department’s regional directors assess trust performance and approve – or reject – plans for trust growth.
CST has also worked with the department to hold briefings for trusts so they can better understanding the funding and growth initiatives provided by the DfE.
As we have seen in the news and media outlets, Staff retention has been a large challenge for schools and trust across the UK, and this academic year has seen the largest strike action in a generation. CST wrote about some of these challenges in a blog at the start of 2023 on the challenges facing the sector, highlighting the ongoing difficulties with recruitment and retention.
Schools and Trusts highlighted “building a talent pipeline and progression routes” and “improving staff wellbeing” as key areas of workforce development they were planning for 2022/23. Both of these workforce development areas aim to tackle recruitment and retention challenges that schools and trusts are facing.
Trust’s unique potential for improvement here was highlighted in a CST white paper developed with education training innovators Steplab, Leveraging trust capacity to deliver effective professional development
Within our blog on the Cost-of-Living we explored the impact of the current economic hardships faced by schools and trusts. The survey was conducted at the start of 2022, before the impact of pay rises for teachers and support staff were known, and before most of the recent increases in energy bills – both at home and in schools. Even then, this had become a major concern: trust leaders already perceived their budgets to be a barrier that needed to be addressed in order to deliver their trust priorities for education quality.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) states that, on average, members anticipate a 106% increase in energy costs, with 16% expecting an increase of 200% or more. These numbers are astronomical on a trust level, with TES reporting one larger trust expecting costs to almost triple from £5m to £14m. If we look at trusts' confidence about the financial sustainability of their trusts, we can see that smaller trusts are least confident in their financial sustainability.
We will be asking similar questions in this year’s survey, to assess how the challenges of the past year have impacted this.
CEOs of CST member trusts and Edurio’s network will automatically receive an invite to take part in the survey. Accounting Officers will receive an email on the day of the launch, with details on how to log in.
The survey is also open to trusts who have yet to join CST. To take part, please sign up using this form to receive a unique survey link:
Who are CST?
The Confederation of School Trusts (CST) is the national organisation and sector body for School Trusts in England, which advocate for, connects and supports executive and governance leaders.
They proudly support and represent more than two thirds of the academy sector in England, and their members are responsible for educating nearly three million young people and children.
CST shapes the education policy agenda for school trusts and has a brilliant, strategic presence with access to government and policymakers, allowing them to drive real change in education on the big issues that matter most.