Identify needs during due diligence
Sharing this information with the Trust Board is important to do from the earliest opportunity, particularly if the information is being used to feed in to decisions around due diligence and growth
Carol Kitson, Executive Principal, Abbey Academy Trust, Leeds

Can you provide some background to Abbey Trust?

Abbey MAT grew out of Abbey Grange CofE Academy (@1450 secondary students) and St Chad’s CofE primary. Abbey Grange became sponsors of a secondary academy (non-denominational) in Calderdale who we supported out of Special Measures. We were a Trust of 3 academies for just over 2 years when another MAT of 3 schools (one secondary and 2 primaries) joined us Spring 2017 after re-brokerage of the whole MAT. The secondary school leading this MAT  required sponsoring after a being placed in Special Measures the previous year. The MAT grew by a further primary (Ofsted Good) which converted to An Academy in August 2017. The MAT now consists of 3 secondary schools and 4 primary schools.

Essentially, we want to be a strong and vibrant Diocesan school led MAT. We are not set up to create ‘School in a box’ and have schools which are cloned from each other. We are set up to reflect the distinctiveness and uniqueness of each school and this is reflected in our mission and all our documentation. The MAT is a vehicle through which each school can become the best version of itself. Abbey MAT has been genuinely set up to offer a real ‘family’ solution to the changing landscape of education provision in both the Diocese and nationally. We genuinely wish to live up to our mission to work ‘In partnership to educate, nurture and empower’ and would want each academy to ‘buy in’ to this vision so that we develop the ‘whole child’ and individual staff in the context of a school-led Church of England MAT. Using the Principle of Subsidiarity, our vision is to ensure that we build local distinctiveness in each school. It is our belief that it is through decisions being made at the most locally appropriate level, rather than being imposed from above, and supported by a strong and supportive central team of outstanding leaders and teachers, that this vision can be allowed to thrive.

Having used assessments from GL Assessment before, what made you consider using the assessments with new schools joining your Trust?

We wanted some easy to administer tests to give us a standardised view of ability and attainment across the Trust. The PASS tests were particularly illuminating as they gave a much broader, and more accurate view, of student perception, than had been shared with us in some schools. It was important that we could use this to gauge the views of others wishing to join the trust as well as having them available to monitor progress once they’d joined. As student voice and leadership is particularly important to the ethos of our trust, it has been really helpful to gain an understanding of this as each school joins us.

What did NGRT and PASS provide you with that you didn’t already know?

NGRT provides information relating to reading and comprehension skills and is benchmarked against the national average. PASS enables staff to identify any potential barriers to learning, linked to pupil attitudes and behaviours, that may be hindering achievement. In one case, the leadership perception of students’ views did not match the PASS results. Further work has shown this is because there had been a reluctance to engage with student voice or to only look for answers they wished to hear! The PASS tests have given us an opportunity to build from real and credible views which is already having impact on student engagement.

How will you use the results from a MAT perspective?

Results will be used to supplement the due diligence work we did before re-brokerage was agreed and supplement the KPI information we collect on a periodical basis. As we intend to monitor on an annual basis it will provide us with data and information that can measure impact and inform other measures of progress.

How will your schools use the data?

We are using them already to plan for progress, look at how students engage (particularly the disadvantaged cohorts) and informing the improvement planning that each school has begun. Because we had reliable, standardised data on which to build our improvement planning, it has helped us to be much more focussed. Schools will be able to monitor progress using both systems thus analysing the impact of school improvement work on pupil outcomes.

If standardised assessments are used when a MAT takes on a new school, how and when would you share the information – both across the Trust and with the schools?

I think sharing this information with the Trust Board is important to do from the earliest opportunity, particularly if the information is being used to feed in to decisions around due diligence and growth.

Our usual stand is to be transparent with school leaders from the beginning and, as they will have been involved in administering the tests, they will be aware that results are available. I would personally, share this information during a face to face meeting with the school leadership, rather than just sending the results on in electronic or printed form, as it is provided us with a valuable opportunity to engage in early dialogue about the school and current perception of students and their attainment. This has inevitably fed into views on leadership and management as well as requirements and resources needed to support planning for development. If the school has been in an Ofsted category, then there may well be issues around reliability of judgements and this data provides a further opportunity to gain understanding of the current school’s perception of this as well to move rapidly into planning for improvement.

Having provided a baseline measure, how often do you think you need to conduct standardised assessments with your new schools?

It is our intention to conduct at least annually to gain a profile of progress within an academic year and ultimately to gain an accurate picture of progress over time.

What would be your top tips for a MAT deciding to implement standardised assessments?

From a practical perspective it is important to ensure that the IT facilities required to undertake the tests are running effectively and do not slow students down because systems are inadequate or dysfunctional.  As we did 2 primaries and one secondary at the same time during a re-brokerage, we benefitted from identifying a member of Central Trust Staff to conduct the tests in each school who was able to ensure that the test were conducted under appropriate conditions and that students and staff could be reassured about purpose.

It is also important in a primary setting to ensure that familiar faces are available so that students do not feel too uncomfortable. Examples of this might be TAs known to students or readers for those who would normally be allowed additional access time.

Having technical support available from IT technicians also proved invaluable as the systems and protocols were unknown to our staff and problems are inevitable! From a MAT perspective, I feel the tests would allow us to analyse the impact of the work the trust has undertaken within academies to improve outcomes and behaviours for learning.

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