“Working with Edurio has helped us harness the power of national benchmarking”
As a cross-phase Multi Academy Trust, Nova Trust creates compelling school cultures where all are motivated to aspire and grow. Today we are chatting with Nova Trust's CEO Ashfaq Rahman, and Alison Ingram, Director of Strategy & Engagement to discuss how to become a listening organisation, and codify what it means to be "transformational".
Great organisations have a compelling "why," a reason for their existence. As a leadership team, we at Nova have worked hard to define the "why" of our organisation. Our trustees and CEO, Ash Rahman, have led us to think about our mission, vision, and values as a trust. We aim to create education beyond an Ofsted framework, and after much deliberation, we landed on the concept of "transformational schools" as our guiding vision.
We have used Edurio to collect feedback from our stakeholders as we chart a journey towards being a trust of transformational schools. Our aim is to develop a sense of oneness and togetherness among our schools and listen to our staff, pupils and parents' feedback to create a transformative approach to leadership and behaviour.
Ash was Vice CEO of the trust before becoming the CEO in early 2021. Having worked closely with DfE officials in implementing the national strategy around teacher retention, he has vast experience in governance and working collaboratively with other local schools and trusts. Ash was also previously a lead Ofsted Inspector and is a National Leader of Education
Alison joined the executive team in April 2017 having previously worked as Company Secretary for Nottingham University Samworth Academy Trust. Alison leads strategy and engagement, incorporating public relations, stakeholder voice (pupils, parents and staff), governance and compliance.
We believe that active listening is crucial for leaders to empower and engage their teams. When Ash became our new CEO, he spent a large amount of time listening to people across the organisation to understand where we were, and as a leadership team we set priorities to help us get to where we are now. As recently as two years ago, a systematic approach to feedback would have been impossible as the held view at that time was that we already knew what we needed to know. The process of incorporating stakeholder feedback into our strategy has been a sharp learning curve, but it’s now hard to remember a time when we weren’t all using feedback every day.
Implementing evidence-informed decisions doesn't end with a survey. That's the first step!
It’s vital to seek feedback from as many people as possible, so you can see the patterns and understand the scale of different challenges and opportunities. We use Edurio’s surveys to help us see the bigger picture, to provide a framework that helps us empower our schools and shape the strategy at both the school and trust level. We use the surveys to check priorities and evaluate progress on our journey towards being a trust of transformational schools. Beyond this, our surveys help us with our overall stakeholder engagement processes, which contribute to better communication and organisation across the whole trust. Our aspiration is to build a community where every staff member is empowered as true culture makers in their own right, within our organisation.
It hasn’t been a completely straightforward process, but we’ve seen significant benefits of adopting this approach. Some schools have taken to it more readily than others, and we’ve been coaching staff members for whom it’s been a bigger challenge. Two things have really stood out to us as important elements of the overall process of adopting stakeholder feedback. Firstly, we decided to make all data transparent across the organisation - each school head has access to the results of every other school. This allows us to have a frank conversation with everyone and encourages knowledge sharing across the organisation. Secondly, we don’t look for excuses in the data - if we are seeing low wellbeing scores in a particular school, we have to find the real reasons behind this, whether that’s a leadership issue, pupil behaviour, or something else. Staff hold all the answers and, if we didn’t know it before, what receiving stakeholder engagement feedback has hammered home is that regular, genuine communication at every level is critical to engender positive change.
The Edurio platform allows you to visually understand each school's performance in the survey
Whilst it can be overwhelming when you start on the journey of collecting stakeholder feedback, the Edurio team and platform help with the process, and at Nova we’ve taken a systematic approach to ensure our heads are able to work with the data. Our Director of Strategy and Engagement, Alison, works closely with our heads to ensure they’re able to use the data when setting their school-level strategy, and has created a wealth of resources to help. We produced a video to help them get started, and run workshops where we interrogate the data and decide what actions are needed next. Our school heads are members of their individual schools but, crucially, also members of the trust leadership team, and our collaboration in these planning sessions has been absolutely vital in turning us from a trust that was inward looking, to one that understands that it’s only by the collective experience of everyone within the trust that will help us become truly transformational.
In order to move forward as one trust on our journey towards becoming transformational, we have begun to codify the behaviours we believe will help us get there. We want it to be clear to everyone what we encourage, and what we would actively discourage. The list of behaviours has changed as we’ve grown and learnt more, and we expect that it will continue to change as our ambitions continue to evolve. For now, these are just some of the beliefs we hold:
Staff wellbeing is paramount in developing a trust of transformational schools. If staff don’t feel their best that can be felt by the pupils. Staff wellbeing is prioritised through ongoing stakeholder engagement and a benefits system.
Feedback from staff is essential for making meaningful changes and ensuring schools are safe places for children to learn.
Collaboration between the school and trust is a priority, so we spend time building strong relationships between leaders and staff through moral decision-making and strong communication skills.
Leaders should recognise weaknesses and plan to improve for the future: the more feedback we collect from our pupils, staff and parents, the more able we are to identify those development areas.
Collective capacity is prioritised over personal status - leaders are encouraged to refer to themselves as part of the trust, not just the headteacher of their school. The philosophy we subscribe to is that of servant leadership - sharing power and putting the needs of our employees first.
Networking and professional development are essential to the school's growth: we leverage our networks to ensure we can learn from each other, and where possible we send staff on visits to schools we consider to be high-performing.
The curriculum should be tailored to fit the community and staff at the local level, while still aligning on certain things.
The organisation must recognise its civic responsibility and look to give back to the sector and society more broadly.
We know we are still in the early stages, but we are really pleased with how far we have come in the two years since Ash became CEO and we began this journey.
We’ve seen real success in certain areas and evidence of early promise in others. We’ve identified areas where certain leaders are strong and have worked hard to understand why it is that they’re strong in this area. If someone is getting really high scores in communication, we need to understand what it is they’re doing so others can learn from them. It’s not enough to simply be proud of good scores, the responsibility to share that skill begins the moment we see our results. If we focus only on the areas for improvement, we could miss an opportunity to really raise the standards across the organisation. This is going to be of paramount importance going forward.
One area we’re particularly proud of is pupil behaviour. Behaviour was a problem for both staff and students, and, as we know, it is a sector wide issue following the return to the classrooms following the pandemic. We used this information to develop a new behaviour strategy and worked with headteachers to implement it. The board of trustees signed off on the strategy, and the data shows that it's having a positive impact. We're all focused on creating schools where students can learn without disruption. We want to establish a culture where everyone is a leader of behaviour and it's not okay to have just "okay" behaviour.
"We want to establish a culture where everyone is a leader of behaviour and it's not okay to have just "okay" behaviour"
When we visit schools, we’re there to check if the changes we're making are landing; if things are looking and feeling better. After some time we began to feel a shift - the corridors just felt like happier places to be. We’ve just finished our staff survey for this year and we saw the scores in these areas shoot up - it was so fantastic to be able to see that our strategy is working, and it was nice to be able to show that to the trustees too. Our work, however, in this area and many others, has only just begun!
A few years ago we would never have been able to get the benefit out of using Edurio. If you had asked us how our staff, pupils or parents are doing, we'd have told you with absolute confidence that we knew exactly how they were doing (and, in short, we'd have said they were doing great). This confidence was misplaced, and following a change of leadership and a real push to becoming a listening organisation, we've made proper use of stakeholder feedback and have been able to find out where exactly we're not-so-great, and put in efforts to improve that. The data allows us to have honest and tough conversations about leadership and how we are organising ourselves. We don’t think data should be viewed negatively in conversations with head teachers, in fact it has been helpful for communication and leadership development.
Now, we are beginning to gain confidence again that we know how our staff, pupils and parents are doing, but this time it is genuine confidence based on significant, strategic effort and work from the leadership team to truly understand and work with our stakeholders to shape what's going on in our schools. And that feels really transformational.
Want to learn more about how we work with schools and multi-academy trusts? We would love to hear about your school improvement goals and see how we could help — you can also send us an email at email@example.com.