Daniel Snape
28 March, 2022
Resources 3 62725b6cd4e46

A magnificent backdrop for The National Multi Academy Trust Conference in London

 If you missed it: A roundup of the day with key takeaways by our invited attendee, doubling as our reporter on the ground.

The Oval is well accustomed to holding all sorts of events; indeed, in 1971 Bella the elephant paraded on the Oval infield as England played India.
But today, for sure, the elephant in the room (specifically as a topic on Racial Equity) was exposed and laid bare.

This event, organised by Convenzis Education on the 17th of March, would be the first in-person conference for many in 2 years; indeed, it was mine, and of course, I was rather excited for lots of reasons. Not just to visit the Oval cricket mecca for my first time ever (yes ever!) but to be able to immerse myself in the learning environment together with leaders of Multi-Academy Trusts (MAT) across the UK.

My view of the day was most definitely shaped by the range of enlightening speakers, all 11 of them were packed into the day.

Powerful collaboration

Will Smith, CEO of the Greenshaw Learning Trust – kicked off proceedings with an upbeat and fluid presentation that focused on the power of collaboration and encouraging ‘Symbols and using Systems’. Using visual signs, wallboards for bringing key headlines to life and the systems to bring clarity and collaboration.

Kept on our toes by making us all think of a word that would describe how we felt about the months ahead. I chose “Excited” and discovered as the day progressed that others had chosen this word too. Maybe the vast majority of attendees chose this word prompted by the longing for some change and excitement after two tough pandemic years. Or was this some clever Darren Brown psychology to help make us feel positive about the day and months ahead?


Next Iris Education

Iris representatives, Nicholas Clark and Tom Kershaw gave a confident presentation on ‘Building a future-ready digital strategy and 5 ways to drive success across your trust’. An interesting tech timeline was revealed together with the reminder that ‘personalisation and subscription services will be more crucial for trusts as time progresses.

5 ways to drive success could be summarised as: 

  1. Have a vision
  2. Build from the ‘known’
  3. Learn from the success of others
  4. Communicate effectively for success and
  5. Review, refine and repeat…of course we must!

A useful and balanced presentation.


Now running half an hour over (10:25), with Will Smith taking the ‘extra’ part in the script… Christopher Brown (The Skills Network) and Paul Sorby (Outwood Grange Academies Trust) took to the stage with a double-act to discuss ‘How to stay in control of curriculum and staffing spend in schools’, which concluded with a brief product demo. It worked well…

Sufian Sadiq (Director of Teaching School at Chiltern Learning Trust) gave a ‘walk in his shoes’ on Racial Equity. A thought-provoking and articulate, no-nonsense address, with the power of story bringing to life Sufian’s first-hand experience of the deep-rooted racial issues within our society. Absolutely impressed by the 10 or so local and charitable organisations being supported, left thinking where does he find the time!? With the ability to weave in an element of humour through his TED talk style presentation – maybe Sufian was the best teacher in the room, as comically suggested to the audience. This wins my straight-talking and hard-hitting award for the day!

After the morning break, Steve Howell CFO from Red Kite Learning Trust enthusiastically shared his experiences about branding, buying in specialism and using dashboards to help keep on top of the key data. We learnt that Steve was a keen surfer in his youth and rather grateful for his Deputy finance officer who now takes on the heavy loads. Ends with an improvement message delivered in a ‘Back to the Future movie analogy, the one where Marty McFly comments, ‘guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet… but your kids are gonna love it. A firm message is that we need to focus on what we can do now to best support our children of the future.

Lois Whitehouse, CEO of Inspire Education Trust spoke passionately about her chosen subject of ‘Wellbeing and resilience’. Lois opened up to the audience, speaking about her feelings of imposter syndrome emanating from not having a teaching background, and the revelation of the tough personal battle through the Covid times. It most definitely displayed a vulnerable openness, the type where you are captivated and left wanting to extend your supporting arms for a hug, which I did do later with Lois over lunch (through my supportive words, I hasten to add!).

Versa-tile table

Miles Liesching MD of West Country gave an insightful talk on ‘Helping MAT’s deliver cost-effective refurbishment’ and impressed all by showcasing the Versa wall-folding dining table! A brilliant piece of space saving furniture and no doubt Miles and his team can support trusts with their future refurb requirements.

I was fortunate to be able to speak with a number of the supporting exhibitors, without whom the Chair of the day, Matt McDermott commented that this inaugural event could not have taken place. Great to talk with Iris Education (Tom Kershaw), Sypro (Tom), Skills Network (Christopher), West Country (John) and Steve Howell (Red Kite Learning Trust) over lunch (Part 1), Dawn Hallybone CSO from 2Simple (over lunch Part 2!) – who I knew better as Purple Mash and Lois Whitehouse from Inspire to say ‘thank you’ for sharing her story.

The Chair for the day, Matt McDermott of Convenzis Education
The Oval basking in glorious sun - the view from the main conference room

Following an incredibly healthy veggie lunch, fitting for both the occasion and the sacred holy grail cricket venue, a number of afternoon presentations took place…

Starting the after was a discussion on ‘MAT Mergers under the spotlight’ with Helen Dowsett (School Business Services) and Charlotte Pearce Cornish (Premier Advisory Group).

Department for Education

Helen Lumb, Schools Engagement Manager for the Department for Education (DfE) (part of the School Commercial Team) gave an informative talk about the support the Department team can offer. Helen spoke about processes, schemes and how the Dept can help guide trusts with their purchasing needs. Mentioning examples that achieved worthy savings such as the Denbigh Alliance Trust and The Seaview Trust. It also left me wondering where the dedicated development and communication (for external MarComs) support fitted into the budget silos?

This is a point for DfE follow up, to understand more about how trusts can gain access to dedicated funding, to help support their growth development ambitions by utilising, or commissioning, specialist communication services? 

The concluding speakers that certainly delivered authoritative talks were…

Mike Glanville, Chief Safeguarding Officer at The Safeguarding Company spoke about implementing effective safeguarding practices and Harry Cramer (MD of Smart Clinic) focused on Managing employee mental health in schools.

What were my key takeaways for school trusts and their leaders…

“Excited” was my word, eked out by Will Smith. I left The Oval, having been immersed in themes of the day, thinking and feeling I understand more about this sector. For sure, everyone that is passionate about working in education, striving to be better and supporting our children of tomorrow, should really be excited about the future.

Nick Richardson, MA for Schools and Trusts, FCIM

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