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Identify the destination before starting the journey

20th September 2021

Following the successful merger of Athena Schools Trust and GEP, we are now working to build effective services to support our schools. As with so many things in life, it is important to identify the destination before starting the journey. We therefore took time last term to reflect on what we were trying to achieve as a merged organisation, and formed a Focus Group of representatives from our schools to support us in this exercise.

We would all agree that the role of the trust is to maximise the educational opportunities offered to our pupils, but there are many different ways of achieving this. From the outset, it has been important for our schools to help us shape the most effective approach, and we are grateful to all those who gave their time to attend Focus Group meetings last term.

The trust seeks to support and empower its governors, school leaders and staff, not to simply run schools by remote-control. We are therefore building a range of systems, processes and services that enable schools to meet their legal obligations and to develop exceptional educational provision.

Through the Focus Group, we have identified that it is helpful to offer different levels of support, depending on the area of school life in question. Some areas are best delivered by the school, as local Governors and staff are best placed to understand how to meet the needs of their local community. For example, Athena-GEP schools are responsible for school led areas such as their branding and marketing, uniform and behaviour policies, as these work best when they are tailored to the specific school context.

In other areas, such as financial processing and management, we are choosing to follow a model of alignment. In these areas, we recognise the benefit of delivery through local schools (ie locally-based finance teams), but also the importance of us all taking a consistent approach and following the same processes – this alignment allows us to better support one another and to avoid ‘re-inventing the wheel’ 12 times across all our schools.

We are also taking a centralised approach in areas where we all recognise that there are benefits to the trust providing a particular service, thus removing the workload from schools. For example, we run Governor and staff CPD programmes across the trust, which provide a greater variety of courses than could be achieved by a single school developing this material by themselves. Guided by the Focus Group, we have chosen to take a slightly different approach to each of our services, thus reflecting the needs of our schools.

We seek to gain the benefits of joint-working and the efficiencies of a centralised approach where this is helpful, without imposing a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach on our schools. Like our schools, our central support should never ‘stand still’ – over time, our approach may need to change, reflecting changing requirements and demands on our schools. We will continually review our services and will listen to the feedback from our school leaders, staff and Governors – our approach will always be informed by our schools.

Patrick Overy, Chief Financial Officer  Athena-GEP

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