STEP grew out of a local partnership between two schools – David Livingstone and Gonville. Both of the schools are within the London Borough of Croydon, and through close working in the early 2000’s they saw the benefit of partnership. In time, this collaboration was called the DLG Partnership.
In 2010, it became apparent that for pupils within the DLG Partnership to continue to benefit from the arrangement, a more formal organisational structure would be required. After much consideration, Governors of both schools investigated the option to become an Academy Trust.
STEP Academy Trust was incorporated, with registered offices at Gonville Academy.
David Livingstone joined the Trust – this concluded the DLG Partnership and laid the foundation for other schools to join STEP.
On the surface, there was no growth within STEP. However, the Executive Team and Trustees were deliberately forging a different approach. Learning from the experiences of Trusts that had grown quickly, STEP instead was careful to put systems and structures in place, ready for the next stage of development.
The wisdom of STEP’s approach was seen when Applegarth joined the Trust. This was a complex undertaking, as Applegarth consisted of an Infant School, a Junior School and an Enhanced Learning Provision. Over the Summer of 2013, the schools were put together and in September 2013 pupils were welcomed to Applegarth Academy for the first time.
Wolsey Junior School, which is located about a mile from Applegarth, needed support. Due to the high quality of support given to Applegarth, and the capacity of STEP, Wolsey quickly benefited from being part of the Trust.
With four academies performing well and challenges of growth being addressed, STEP was asked to take on the sponsorship of a parent led Free School in Bromley. Originally called Bromley Bi-lingual School, La Fontaine started with just 68 pupils across three year groups in a temporary site.
A significant challenge came STEP’s way in 2015 with Angel Oak joining the Trust. The school was previously known as Gloucester Park Primary and for years had contended with many difficult situations. Strong leadership on all aspects of school life was needed, and STEP was in a position to provide this.
STEP opened a targeted basic need school in partnership with the London Borough of Croydon – Heathfield Academy. Although the school had a few temporary locations, we moved to the permanent site in South Croydon after a few years.
With STEP successfully established in South London, the Executive Team and Trustees gave consideration to our options. Should STEP stay in a tight geographical area of well-funded schools, or did the Mission of the Trust compel us to assist schools in other areas? The answer was obvious to STEP, and in September 2016, two schools in East Sussex joined the Trust – Hawkes Farm in Hailsham, and Breakwater in Newhaven.
Shortly after work began with Hawkes Farm and Breakwater, it was evident that East Sussex had much need of support. In January, four additional primary schools joined STEP – Burfield, High Cliff, Phoenix and White House.
The success of the work undertaken at Wolsey Juniors led to the opportunity to support Wolsey Infant School, and in September 2017 they too joined the Trust. In January 2018, the two schools merged to become Tudor Academy.
With the six academies in East Sussex benefiting from being part of STEP, and all academies within London also continuing to improve, we welcomed Turnham Academy to the Trust. This took STEP to reasonable sized Trust, and as such gave an opportunity to pause growth to ensure we continue to have structures and processes in place to support existing academies as well as future joiners.
The start of the pandemic was a difficult time for all, and it would have been easy for STEP to pull up the drawbridge and not grow. However, that would not be in line with our Mission or moral purpose. As such, even during COVID we continued to support others, which included three academies joining in May 2020 – Benedict, Park and Westbridge.
In one of the most obvious examples of STEP in action, the Trust welcomed Beddington Park to the Trust in November 2020. The school was in extreme need in the Summer of 2020, and STEP was there to provide support.
With six previously failing schools in East Sussex now performing well – all of which had been inspected by Ofsted and considered at least ‘Good’ – an opportunity arose to once more support the local authority. In February 2022, Peacehaven Heights and Telscombe Cliffs joined the Trust, bringing us to 20 academies across London and the South East.
As evidenced by our history, STEP is built on moral purpose and a determination to make a positive difference. The Trust will only grow when we are confident that a school joining STEP will themselves benefit, and so we remain committed to working with any school that, like us, truly wants to improve the life chances of children.