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Until recently, Gonville and David Livingstone operated independently as maintained primary schools serving vibrant, diverse communities in Thornton Heath, North Croydon. In May 2010, however, their contexts changed dramatically, leading to a partnership which subsequently developed into The STEP (Striving Together for Excellence in Partnership) academy trust; the organisation I am privileged to lead as executive principal.
Our journey to academy status began in April 2010, when Gonville primary school was designated a National Support School. As the school’s headteacher, I was approached by Croydon local authority to provide leadership support for David Livingstone Primary; at the time, a vulnerable local school. Serving as executive headteacher for just over two years, I worked closely with Claire Slade - now headteacher, but at the time head of school - and the governing body to secure strong, sustainable leadership. Close collaboration between the two schools, which included transferring teaching staff, meant that we were able to achieve significant improvements for both partners. We saw very clearly that by working together, schools can achieve things which would not be possible on their own.
In May 2011, a year after the start of the partnership, the governing body of Gonville established The 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.
A key principle of the STEP academy trust is that member academies maintain their own character. Individuality and diversity are encouraged. For example, each academy is required to develop a specialism which can be shared within and beyond the trust. The STEP logo – bands rising in steps – symbolises the relationship between our academies. Although autonomous and independent, through working together we are able to support each other towards even greater heights.
Almost immediately, the STEP Board of Directors took a 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 Paul Glover joined the trust and was installed as headteacher of Applegarth junior school in New Addington. Placed in special measures 18 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, the school exited special measures in less than six months; furthermore, it was awarded an Ofsted rating of good.
Having been approved by the Department as an academy sponsor, The STEP academy trust is in the process of sponsoring Applegarth, which from September 2012 became an all through primary school. As with David Livingstone before, support for becoming a STEP academy was unanimous.
For the schools involved in STEP, the academies programme has given them the opportunity to innovate and improve by working in partnership. Indeed, academy conversion has empowered these academies to become calculated risk-takers, collectively doing things differently in order to build toward our shared vision of achieving educational transformation for our pupils.
The STEP academy trust
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