The STEP story so far……..
Initially, Gonville and David Livingstone operated independently as maintained primary schools serving vibrant, diverse communities in Thornton Heath, North Croydon. However, in May 2010 their contexts changed dramatically, leading to a partnership which subsequently developed into STEP (Striving Together for Excellence in Partnership) Academy Trust – an organisation founded on moral purpose. STEP’s story illustrates how the academies programme can enable educational transformation by facilitating strong, symbiotic partnerships.
The journey to academy status began in April 2010 when Gonville Primary School was designated a National Support School by the National College. Almost immediately Mark Ducker, Headteacher of Gonville at the time, was approached by Croydon Local Authority to provide leadership support for David Livingstone Primary. Serving as Executive Headteacher for just over two years, Mark worked closely with Claire Slade, Headteacher at David Livingstone, and the Governing Body to secure effective, sustainable leadership. A key improvement strategy was to utilise the transformational qualities of effective partnership. Close collaboration, which included transferring teaching staff, resulted in significant improvements for both partners, and a developing commitment that together schools can achieve things which are not possible on their own.
In May 2011, a year after the start of the partnership, the Governing Body of Gonville established STEP Academy Trust. A multi-academy trust, it had a clearly defined vision: to achieve educational transformation by establishing a growing family of academies that share core values, principles and aims. In September 2011, David Livingstone joined Gonville as the second STEP Academy.
Almost immediately, the STEP Board of Trustees took the strategic decision to further increase the Trust’s leadership capacity in preparation for future
partnership work. As part of this process, a STEP Academy Trust Headteacher was recruited to lead the third STEP Academy. In January 2012, the successful applicant, Paul Glover, joined the Trust and was immediately installed as Headteacher of Applegarth Junior School in New Addington. Placed in special measures eighteen months earlier, the school was extremely vulnerable and in need of intensive support. As a result of Paul’s dynamic leadership and the support provided by STEP Academy Trust, the school exited special measures in less than six months; furthermore, it was awarded an Ofsted rating of good. Testifying to the power of partnership, the HMI leading the inspection noted:“The excellent partnership with STEP Academy Trust has resulted in improving teaching, strengthening the capacity at senior and middle leadership and supporting the rapid rise in achievement especially for the more-able pupils”.
Having been approved by the DfE as an academy sponsor, STEP Academy Trust sponsored Applegarth Academy, which from September 2012 became an all through primary school. As with David Livingstone before, support for becoming an academy was unanimous.
In September 2013, following a short period of consolidation and capacity building, STEP Academy Trust entered into a partnership arrangement with Wolsey Junior School. Earlier in the year, Ofsted judged Wolsey to be providing an inadequate education and, in accordance with current government policy, was required to become a sponsored academy. Two months later, after a successful monitoring visit, the school converted to become Wolsey Junior Academy, sponsored by STEP Academy Trust.
STEP Academy Trust’s mission – to improve the life chances of all children – requires further growth. That said, STEP only enters into new supportive partnerships if it has the capacity to make a difference, and if the work of its existing members is not compromised. Following a carefully considered application, the government confirmed STEP as the sponsor of a new school being build in Croydon as part of the Targeted Basic Need Programme. With plenty of time to plan, the two-form entry STEP Academy, Heathfield, opened on a temporary site in September 2015.
In May 2014, an approach by a group seeking a new sponsor to support their French specialist Free School, created a very different partnership opportunity. Led by dynamic Headteacher, Sebastien Chapleau, the group demonstrated that they shared the vision of STEP and, as a result, the Board of Directors felt a partnership would not only benefit their school, but also complement the work of the Trust. Located in Bromley, La Fontaine Academy opened in September 2014, initially on a temporary site with four classes. The Trust will work with the DfE, EFA and Bromley Council, to identify a suitable permanent site which can accommodate 630 pupils.
The partnership with Gloucester Primary School in Peckham, led to a seventh member joining STEP Academy Trust. Initially working under a Memorandum of Understanding, the partnership with STEP quickly earned the support of the whole school community. As a result, the Governing Body of Gloucester Primary School requested permission from the Secretary of State to join STEP as a sponsored academy; a request which was subsequently granted. In February 2015, renamed Angel Oak Academy, the school became a full and active member of the STEP family.
In September 2016, STEP Academy Trust extended its moral purpose into a new geographical area. Working in partnership with East Sussex County Council, and supported by the Regional Schools Commissioner, the Trust will establish a second STEP Hub replicating the model that has been so successful in South London. Hawkes Farm Academy in Hailsham and Breakwater Academy in Newhaven became the first members on 1st September.
Following approval by the Regional Schools Commissioner and the DfE, STEP has extended its supportive partnership to include another four academies in East Sussex; previously sponsored by Lilac Sky. From 1st January 2017, the newest members of our East Sussex Hub are Burfield Academy, High Cliff Academy, Phoenix Academy and White House Academy.
For the schools involved in STEP, the academies programme has been a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Becoming standalone academies would hold few perceived benefits, as for STEP it is the opportunity to work in partnership that is the programme’s greatest attraction. Indeed, academy conversion has empowered STEP Academies to become calculated risk-takers, collectively doing things differently in order to build strategically toward their shared vision.