Running one school is no easy task – running three together sounds even tougher, but with strong leadership, supportive governors and parents, talented teachers and hard-working pupils, it can be done successfully.
As executive headteacher of the Brooke Hill Multi Academy Trust, Sharon Milner has overall responsibility for three primary schools – Brooke Hill Academy in Oakham; Edith Weston Academy and South Witham Academy.
Brooke Hill is currently rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted which, in its most recent report, praised the strong leadership of senior management; the positive attitude of pupils to learning; and good teaching across the school.
Edith Weston became an academy in December 2015 and has not been inspected since then – but, as Edith Weston Primary School , it had an requires improvement’ rating. South Witham Academy was formerly known as South Witham Community Primary School and had a ‘inadequate’ rating.
Brooke Hill and Edith Weston joined together in 2013 and in September last year they were joined by South Witham.
The partnership has already brought benefits to all three sites – with resources and ideas being shared to drive up standards at each location.
Mrs Milner, now in her eleventh year as a headteacher, is certain that forming a multi-academy trust was in the best interests of each school.
She said: “By coming together, we can share best practice across all three schools. We can afford to fund activities for our children that a single school on its own might not be able to.
“Staff are regularly circulated between different schools which is great for their professional development and for the pupils at each site. The schools go on residential stays and theatre trips together, and pupils from all schools swim at the pool at Edith Weston.
“Whenever one school arranges a visit by a guest speaker, we make sure they visit all three. It works very well. Providing an excellent all-round education is really important.”
The government is keen to get more schools to join multi academy trusts, believing the partnerships can result in more efficient back-office functions and raise standards at weaker schools.
Brooke Hill, with its solid Ofsted performance and commitment to enriching the curriculum, is certainly well placed to give its fellow trust members a boost.
The school was built in the 1970s and was designed to accomodate 160 pupils. Extended several times since then it now has a capacity of 350. The most recent extension, built last year, saw the addition of two new classrooms and a music room.
Most of the teaching spaces at Brooke Hill Academy are open plan – so pupils from multiple classes sit in the same large room, rather than being shut away in their own rooms.
It’s an unusual arrangement, but is said to work very well, with a bit of careful timetabling to avoid classes being noisy alongside those which require silence.
Brooke Hill is a so-called ‘Forest School’ and its large outdoor space has a gate leading through to an area of Woodland Trust land which pupils use two afternoons a week for den-building, art and music sessions. During warmer weather, assemblies are held there too.
Reception teacher Karen Lemon said: “The Forest School is a really valuable asset and is great for gaining team-building, looking and listening skills.
“Some children who present challenges in school really come to life out there. Everyone loves getting outdoors and learning in the open air.”
The school also has an allotment area where children can grow their own vegetables and two goats called Billie and Gruff which are looked after by ‘goat monitors’ who visit every day to feed and check on them.
There is a strong focus on computing – with iPads and laptops commonly-used classroom tools and children from Year 1 upwards learning about coding.
Mrs Milner is confident Edith Weston has taken huge strides forward since its last Ofsted inspection.
She said: “We know from test results that standards have risen significantly. I’m confident Edith Weston will get at least ‘good’ rating when next inspected. There are challenges running three schools side by side. Ensuring standards at Brooke Hill do not slip while we drive up performance elsewhere is constantly on my mind.
“I split my time between each site and still enjoy hands-on teaching whenever I get the opportunity. I have three extremely capable heads of school who run each school on a day-to-day basis in my absence.
“We have only been a trust of three schools for a few months now but the signs are very promising and we have had a lot of positive feedback from parents.”