Chief Executive, Bellevue Place Education Trust
I joined Bellevue Place Education Trust as Chief Executive just over a year ago. Bellevue Place has seven Primary Free Schools across London and Maidenhead, currently with 500 pupils, but will grow to 2,700 once full capacity has been reached. All were established to meet the need for the shortage of primary school places by a Trust that brings together the best of the Independent Schools sector (Bellevue Education) and the Commercial sector (Place Group & Schools Buying Club).
I started working with academies back in July 2004 within the Department for Education, when there were just 12 academies open nationally. During that time, I had a number of roles as a civil servant, mainly brokering and supporting the establishment of new academies throughout the country. I was lucky enough to be one of the first four people who established the National Schools Commissioners office – an office that is thriving under the current Schools Commissioner. Towards the end of my time there, I was part of the National Challenge team, who were focused on having no schools below 30% GCSE including English & Maths.
I joined one of the largest academy sponsorships in 2009, as Director of Strategy. It is now one of the largest chains to which I was able to grow them from 6 academies to 35, with more than half of them achieving a Good or better by OfSTED (from a history of significant under-performance). I then moved to become Director of Operations for an academy trust in the East Midlands.
The Primaries I worked on converting did amazingly well last summer, moving from an average of 58% Level 4 or above in 2014 to 82% Level 4 or above in 2015 – an increase of 24% in one year.
Now at my third academy sponsor, I feel lucky to taken experiences from what has worked really well and what could have been done better, especially around responsible and sustainable growth.
Days are enjoyably and varied. I try to visit at least three schools a week (made easy by being based in one of our schools!) As a small Trust, work is dominated by operational challenges, with my aim to focus on as much strategic planning work as I can. However, with only four in our ‘core team’, keeping a focus on delivering the Trust’s Strategic Plan is a hard task. We are currently reviewing what the next two years will look like, which is exciting and helps keep us focused on outcomes. Our key challenges include securing pupil numbers in our new schools as well as supporting staff recruitment across the Trust. All our schools need to recruit 14 new teachers a year, before any resignations, which have been few this year, thankfully. The next few weeks are dominated by the performance management of our Heads as well as the budget approval for the Trust and all the schools.
Currently I’m on a health drive! I had salmon with roasted cherry tomatoes and a salad (with a white wine, to balance it out!). I’m doing a football marathon at the weekend, which is focusing the mind!
Loving Neil Young at the moment. With the extremely sad loss of David Bowie, reminding myself of how good his music really is and also who influenced him.
My favourite subject was Science – I loved my teachers and they completely enthused me in the subject, especially Chemistry. Sad to say I hated French, which is perhaps ironic as would love to live there when I retire. I did not appreciate that enough at school, although the French exchange experience was great.
Working with children who exceed expectations with excellent teachers. We all know that is what makes the difference and my role is to create the environment for them to be successful.
If you could change one thing about the current education system what would it be?
I was taught by a former education minister to work on three priorities. I feel Nicky Morgan’s should be 1. Much more funding for sponsors who are tasked with taking schools out of Special Measures; 2. More strong teachers should be trained (continue to expand Teach First); 3. A clear national assessment system we can all work to.
If you’re interested in taking part in our Head to Head feature please get in touch with Bethan Jones.