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Thomas Deacon Education Trust

Building Back Better Together

Colin Baxter, our Literacy and English as an Additional Language (EAL) Strategy Leader, talks about our mission to 'Build Back Better' after Covid-19. 

Our Trust has endured a very testing time from the moment that the pandemic hit when our schools had to move to remote learning for most and continuing on-site education for children of key workers. We are proud to trumpet how our schools ensured that all of our most vulnerable children received excellent daily nourishment, as well as contact with their teachers, flexible approaches to learning and quality communication with our parent body.

Unbowed by this adversity, despite all the additional energy required to keep all of our students safe and healthy, we embarked on a programme, as members of Schools of Tomorrow, to seek out the opportunities in the perceived catastrophe, to maintain a positive mindset and to move forward as an organisation with renewed vigour and learning, rather than merely looking to ‘get back to normal’.

Five of our academies, across the phases, comprising Queen Katharine, Gladstone Primary, Welbourne Primary and Thomas Deacon Secondary as well as the Primary as a through school, embarked, in the Autumn term of 2020, on a series of projects based on an academically rigorous process of action research. Each school focused on some of the more positive experiences of the pandemic, as well as aspects of practice where gaps or improvements were perceived to be needed.

The common thread that ties all of our academies together in this work is a significantly increased emphasis on listening to all stakeholders: parents, students and staff about their concerns and how we can empower them all to become active participants in helping young people grow and thrive.

Queen Katherine Academy has already listened very intently to their student body and addressed significant concerns around in-school issues, such as uniform and the quality of lunchtime provision and the senior leadership team has responded positively by changing rules and improving facilities. They have also created focus groups to discuss major issues of the day such as racism and tolerance and mental health to provide students with the opportunity to drive real change. Their action research project will test whether these new levels of engagement can drive actual school improvement.

Welbourne Primary, despite an outward perception of good parental engagement and relationships, has decided to dig down deeper and look at methods to reach a more authentic level of relationship with their parents by redoubling their efforts to make explicit how parents can understand more deeply and help their children to learn and develop in school. The action research project aims to test whether this greater level of parental involvement can lead to improved pupil outcomes in their learning.

Gladstone Primary has followed up its observation of some of the really challenging circumstances that many disadvantaged pupils faced in lockdown, especially those from the Roma community who have been historically discriminated against and who suffer high levels of deprivation. They are working to educate themselves as a staff body to understand their culture, heritage and barriers to engagement, with a view to being able to offer a wider, richer, more targeted enrichment programme to ensure that this community feels more integrated and empowered. The action research project will look at the link between the increased levels of understanding and provision and pupil progress and learning.

Thomas Deacon Academy is using its focus on building a ‘Character Curriculum’ which sets out to actively build character among the student body from KS2-KS5, as a way of enabling young people to see how developing their character contributes to their growth, wellbeing and achievement. As in other schools, wider opportunities are being provided for students to become actively involved in their learning and development as a way of increasing their agency within school. Their action research will look at this relationship between student engagement with character and personal development and their desire to take action on issues of importance to them, be they charitable, environmental or social.

These schools across the Trust are meeting to collaborate and challenge each other on these projects and the intention is that we will all benefit from these projects, not least because any outcomes and learning will be based on some key data-informed success measures that we can rely on and transfer to different settings across the organisation.

These common features are based on our common values: mutual trust, diversity, excellence and ultimately transformation. We have flipped the narrative by moving into a more active listening mode with our communities. We aim to empower our various stakeholders to take greater responsibility and action. We have done this with humility, believing that we, as teachers, do not have all the answers, yet we move forward together with positivity within this context of adversity.

We look forward to reporting on the results and impacts of these exciting projects.

Colin Baxter