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GUEST BLOG: “I’m a PfI – Get me out of here!” from Andrew Chubb, @SALT_CEO

The whole subject of PfI-financed public buildings seems to be back in the news again – currently with a focus on hospitals , whose PfI “mortgages” are leading to serious cuts in services.

“Mortgage” is an appropriate term to use in this context – made up of two French words “mort” (meaning death) and “gage” (meaning pledge), PfI contracts feel like just that – a financial death pledge.  Sadly, too many of our colleagues running schools know this experience only too well.  However, it is possible to challenge, renegotiate and even in some cases terminate these contracts.  This is our story….

Shiny shed

In September 2011, Archbishop Sentamu Academy moved into fantastic new premises built under the BSF programme.  We were incredibly fortunate – five weeks after the money for Hull’s BSF programme landed in the bank, the programme was axed by Michael Gove.

Although our academy was not a full PfI-build, we were nonetheless subject to both “Hard FM” (Facilities Management) and “Lifecycle” contracts with the Local Authority, who in turn held these contracts “back to back” with Hull’s main PfI provider.

These contracts were designed to ensure that the building was well-maintained over an assumed  25-year life-span, with money available to replace equipment that wore out over the period.  This was of course a great idea – but there was just one problem – they proved to be extremely expensive.

As the years progressed, the impact of these contracts became worse and worse as funding was progressively squeezed. Like many other academies, we were forced to make a series of ever-deepening cuts, which were all the more galling as we believed the costs of our contracts to be unnecessarily high.

Crunch time

Eventually, it became clear that unless we could renegotiate our two contracts, the financial future of both our academy and indeed our whole trust would be seriously jeopardised. Somewhat in desperation, I pointed this out to the Local Authority officers responsible for both holding and assistingus manage the contracts.  They saw the seriousness of our situation, and agreed to help us.  At this point, I would like to express my thanks to the lead officer who supported us – in my research on PfI (more of that later), I came to learn that this is not always so forthcoming.

Following my pleas, we were put in touch with a company who specialised in helping schools and academies in our situation.  After an initial meeting, we drew up a “battle plan” for challenging the terms of our contracts.  This involved carrying out detailed condition surveys of our academy, along with a “bottom up” benchmarking exercise to compare the maintenance costs we were being charged per square metre with those charged to other institutions.  It was painstaking, detailed work, but at the end of it, we were able to demonstrate that we could quite legitimately reduce our payments without jeopardising either the maintenance or long-term condition of the building.


Armed with this high-quality piece of analysis, we put bothour contracts out for re-tender, successfully re-contracting for a significantly lower sum.  The Local Authority officer responsible for managing this work was happy to authorise the contract variation, and as a consequence, we are now saving a six-figure sum every year for the life of the contract – in our case, another 17 years.  That money can now go where it should – back into frontline teaching.  Crisis averted.

Reflections on the process

We finally signed our new contracts just after the start of the Summer holidays.  Whilst it had been quite frustrating at times, I actually became quite fascinated by the issue. As I looked into how academies have been locked into Hard FM, Lifecycle and Soft FM contracts I discovered a really murky world in which PfI companies responsible for running the schemes often use extremely sharp practice to maximise profits, at a time when the local authority officers responsible for managing these highly complex contracts are often significantly under-resourced to deal with them.  And that’s before we begin to look at other financial instruments such as “insurance gain share” and “bellows agreements” which further complicate matters and also serve to maximise profits.

Above all, it struck me that as school leaders, we have both a moral and a financial imperative to challenge PfI contractors’ charges.  It simply cannot be right that some of them are making very high profits at a time where we are having to make cuts which damage young people’s life-chances.  Happily, our experience has shown that this need not be the case, and that by working in partnership with the Local Authority, it is perfectly possible to re-negotiate contracts that are fair to everyone.

Andrew Chubb is the Chief Executive of the Sentamu Academy Learning Trust.  

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“Solving the recruitment crisis with love, honesty and humanity” by @NavSanghara

Solving the recruitment crisis with love, honesty and humanity.

During my pool-side reflection time over the summer, I found my thoughts floating towards staff I have had the privilege of working with, both past and present, within the trust and beyond, and all that they have taught me about myself professionally and personally – there was lots of reflecting! My thoughts then began drifting onto new staff joining our trust, those who have left and the ones who have chosen to stay. The question I kept coming back to was ‘why’. Why did some individuals seek us out to work with? Why did the ones who left for reasons other than promotion or distance move on? Why have some staff only ever worked with us? Although I had some ideas and thoughts about this, I will be focusing my energies on being able to know the answers in more depth and then also using this knowledge to further improve our retention figures this year.

The publication of the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy in January this year confirmed what all of us in the sector have known for some time – there are more teachers leaving the profession than joining and for those who do join, the retention rates of early career teachers are lower than ever before.

This strategy was encouraging as it recognised the need to ensure that teaching is an attractive profession which allows those who choose to pursue it to thrive. Several key priorities emerged from the publication: creating more supportive school cultures, transforming support for early career teachers, ensuring teaching remains attractive and making it easier for great people to become teachers.

Across the Inspire Partnership MAT, we have worked hard to reflect on our collective responsibility to shape, influence and create the kind of schools that teachers want to join and, more importantly, continue to work in. Retaining teachers is just as important as recruiting them; every teacher successfully retained is one less for the recruitment targets. Retention also builds the education system’s capacity for high-quality teaching, as inexperience is one of the few factors we know is related to teaching quality.

Of all the priorities to come out of the strategy, the one that I believe trumps the others is the school culture. If we can shape an organisational culture where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, then we will have a greater chance of recruiting the right people, and retaining them in the profession too.

Across our leadership teams we have been engaging with professional reading that focuses on relational leadership. In The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni cites four disciplines critical to ensuring strong organisational health:

· Build a cohesive leadership team

· Create clarity

· Overcommunicate clarity

· Reinforce clarity

He outlines the importance of these disciplines throughout all aspects of the organisation: the vision and values, recruitment and retention of staff, leadership of meetings, and every single piece of communication.

Daniel Coyle, in his book The Culture Code, shares his secrets to high performing teams:

Nav blog SEP2019

start with safety

Building psychological safety and symbols of connection ultimately forms bonds of belonging and identity amongst staff. This could take the form of close physical proximity, lots of eye connect, or high energy talk where everyone talks to everyone.

Get vulnerable

Sharing vulnerabilities as individuals, teams and organisations develops shared habits of mutual risk-taking and fosters cooperation. In an organisation this might manifest itself by asking questions more than telling, making it safe to fail, and building a common language for seeking help.


Establishing a common purpose through a narrative includes using storytelling to communicate shared goals, sweating the hard stuff so you don’t delegate something you aren’t prepared to do, and celebrating team and individual success publicly.

We have been continuously working on these three key aspects of the ‘culture code’, particularly emphasising the power of storytelling and empowering our schools to become storytellers through the experiences and successes of children and staff. In fact, when we have met teachers who want to join our trust, it is often because their interaction with a story has underpinned their desire to connect and work with us.

Humans First, Professionals Second

Mary Myatt’s must-read book, High Challenge, Low Threat, makes a compelling argument that leaders who create environments where staff feel safe and able to take risks – the low threat of the title – will contribute to a culture of intrinsic motivation and ultimately get great returns from employees. A key theme is the importance of building relationships and seeing staff as real people before their job titles.

She also argues that holding staff to account can be achieved in a humane way that, ultimately, staff will welcome if leaders make the conditions right. The following encapsulates Myatt’s style and approach: ‘If we lead our schools valuing these relationships and keeping them at the heart of conversations and dialogue then we are contributing to a positive school culture.’

Across our partnership we aspire to live by this philosophy, valuing interaction over action, taking an active interest in others, making a deliberate effort to forge relationships with children and staff and modelling love of the team. Through our commitment to relational leadership we have successfully built a model where honest conversations can and will take place.

‘We must become better at asking and do less telling in a culture that overvalues telling.’ Edgar H. Schein

Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

If we are aiming to create a culture which fosters connection with the organisational vision, then valuing and nurturing relationships takes time,

effort and energy. We have used several coaching models across our trust to enable staff to reflect on their leadership, to challenge themselves, and to grow as a person and a leader.

Leaders from the trust have benefitted from Challenge Partners’ Getting Ahead London Programme, which involved being coached by an experienced and skilled headteacher as part of a trio with other aspirant headteachers from across London.

The impact a coaching model has on the growth of an individual and their connection with the organisation can’t be underestimated – the knowledge that leaders value their growth and role in the organisation, and will make the time on a regular basis to invest in you, is very powerful.

Working with all staff to outline a clear pathway of continued professional development has been an ongoing priority. Ensuring staff feel they have autonomy and ownership over their career is an effective way to maintain high staff retention rates. Giving staff opportunities across our trust to take on different aspects of school improvement, to lead on areas of practice they are passionate about, to move between schools and gain experience in different settings, or to implement research, have all been as important as the development programmes we have designed for teaching assistants, NQTs, early career teachers, middle and senior leaders, and headteachers.

In addition to this, there are many working parties and hubs across the partnership that have been constructed by the interests and priorities of teachers and leaders in school. Last academic year we undertook a workload survey and as a result teacher established a feedback working party as they felt the way we provided children with feedback needed revising. The teachers interested in this very much drove this change and as a result across the partnership we have revised our thoughts about feedback.

Leadership Competencies

Across the partnership, we recognised that schools with the most reflective, relational leaders led to a safe, positive and thriving culture and in turn higher retention rates. All the leaders from the trust shared the competencies and associated behaviours they found themselves having to work on personally, but also with their staff through coaching dialogues. Following this we collated the competencies we believed to be instrumental in creating a relationship-focused and positive organisational culture.

Leadership behaviours NAv

Associated behaviours NAv.png

We use this as a framework in many scenarios to articulate, make transparent and promote the strongest of leadership behaviours. To begin with these were used in coaching conversations and through senior leadership meetings and over time this has led to leaders at all levels owning their this and using it for self-reflection and for reflections with others.

Relational Schools

As a trust it is really important to us that we model all that we value; asking staff for their feedback is an integral part of this. This academic year, we have been working with Relational Schools to capture analysis about our collective relational health across the whole organisation.

Relational Schools were established in 2014 and are a charitable think tank who aim for ‘a better-connected society’, and to improve how schools and the people who spend their daily lives studying and working in them understand, value and enact their relationships with one another.

They have undertaken a relational staff survey across the partnership, with all members of the organisation given the opportunity to contribute. They will measure the quality of relationships with a robust, tried and tested empirical tool.

Once we receive this valuable feedback and analysis, we will take an honest look at ourselves and what staff are reporting, we will then share this across the schools and create a working party to strengthen our relational capital. The work following this will focus on the way our schools are organised, as well as the way our schools conduct their practice with respect to teaching, learning, leadership and management.

Solving the recruitment crisis is no easy task, however, if as a profession we focus our energies on leading from the heart, building cohesive teams and listening to what our organisation is telling us then we can be optimistic about the future. There are many factors beyond our control, but as school leaders we must focus on what is within our reach and work with determination to retain and develop our staff, ultimately making teaching a profession of choice.


Nav Sanghara is Executive Headteacher with Inspire Partnership in London and Medway. Nav is a member of Heads’ Roundtable. 

“Disappointment” by @BinksNeateEvans September 2019


The naming and validation of feelings is essential in helping children to understand their feelings, to aid self regulation and as they develop, an appropriate level of emotional literacy. It works with adults too. It signals to the individual that you know what they are feeling, that you are with them and recognise the process they are in. In simple terms we are saying ‘I get you. I am here. You are not too much for me’. We know that shutting feelings down or suppressing high feelings can cause confusion, a sense of not being heard and can lead to more negative traits, or in that moment, escalate the issue into utter blind frustrated fury.

There is a tendency to jump to or clumsily identify some behaviours as emotions on the anger spectrum when often the underlying emotion is actually disappointment. I have argued frequently that disappointment is an under-rated emotion. Of course I’m not suggesting we create more disappointment; why would I? In it extreme forms it’s truly horrid. I am merely offering that we should talk about and notice disappointment more. It is not unusual in schools to here help scripts using phrases such as ‘I can see you are sad/angry/cross….’ But you rarely hear disappointment acknowledged.

Disappointment has it’s origin in Old French ‘desappointer’ and became ‘disappoint’ in late Middle English with the definition as ‘deprived from position’, ‘defeat the realisation of fulfilment’ or ‘the defeat or failure of hope or expectation’. Strong stuff. Its no wonder we confuse it with anger, misery and fury.

In flippant terms, it appears on banner cartoons. “Thanks for putting the empty cereal box back in the cupboard, I got to have disappointment for breakfast’. However, there are many occasions when disappointment is signalling and linked to other much stronger feelings such as deep hurt, grief and upset.

Think of times when you have seen people experience and discover betrayal in a relationship, be it a friendship, business or love; the disappointment they have in that person to whom they had bestowed with their trust, what could have been and all that the relationship stood for disappears out of sight, out of their grip, down a dark hope sucking drain hole. Disappointment is strong. This may put us in mind of the extraordinarily difficult political climate why are in with key political figures expressing their disappointment and the betrayal they feel by resigning, stepping down and changing political parties.

There are so many circumstances when disappointment drives behaviour but the response is often matched to a different emotion. Identifying and naming disappointment can help you provide the appropriate empathetic response by giving the individual the opportunity to express their perception of what has been lost. That is what disappointment is; lost hope. But this is not the same as hopeless. Providing space and time to process the ‘lost hope’ is very important, especially for young children and anyone who is showing signs of vulnerability. Skilled, timely support enables the ‘disappointed’ to recover and prevent the deterioration into hopelessness, which psychiatrists always consider as extreme psychological vulnerability.

So whether as a parent, a partner, a friend, a teacher or colleague take time to consider the many things that cause disappointment. The list is endless: Failed driving tests; lower GCSE scores; Arsenal losing at home; flight cancellations; the wrong present; failure to show up to have your children on your weekend; not being invited, the current state of political manoeuvring….. it goes on and on.

Give disappointment its rightful place; name it, provide the chance to express what has been lost and gently acknowledge that the feeling doesn’t last forever.

Binks Neate-Evans is an executive headteacher across three schools within the Diversa Trust (which has recently entered a partnership with Evolution Academy Trust). She is a member of the core group of Heads’ Roundtable. 

“Safeguarding – we aren’t doing enough, are we?” by Vic Goddard (@vicgoddard)

By writing this I am simply avoiding doing my preparation for the second of three days of admissions appeals. An occurrence that is quite common throughout the year but the key year 6 into 7 ones are always the most stressful. I have had the disappointment of not getting the first choice as a parent so I do understand how it feels; I think that probably makes the whole process even more uncomfortable.

Like lots of schools we ‘commission’ our local authority to run the process and it is this involvement that brings in to sharp focus the important role Essex LA still has in Passmores’ life despite being an academy. It also makes me think about how we desperately need their involvement in other aspects of the education landscape.  Don’t get me wrong I, like many others, have had my frustrations with what felt like wasted money providing things that I didn’t need but had no option but to pay for. However, I am convinced that there are some really important parts of our education system that a LA are the best to support.

There will probably not be a Headteacher or governing body anywhere that does not believe that safeguarding the young people is their first priority. However we have this system that ties safeguarding checks to Ofsted inspections (I know there are exceptions but generally…) which may be over a decade apart.

This is simply not good enough.

Just because a school has gained an Outstanding judgement from Ofsted does not mean that safeguarding practices remain sound just because academic performance remains high. If a school has to publish when it last had a formal, independent check on safeguarding I wonder how many parents would be put off?

As a parent I’d be worried if my local school had not been inspected for several years that complacency may have slipped in around safeguarding. Obviously, I don’t think it would be a common occurrence but I’d like the reassurance nevertheless.

The oversight of safeguarding currently is focused on what you’ve done not how you ensure you stay up to date and sharply focused on what is important.

It is time for a rethink. If we take safeguarding seriously it needs to be more than just an additional task that an already stretched team of inspectors has to tick off.  We could save the time for the inspection team but also ensure a robust and developmental process that keeps schools both compliant and forward thinking.

I am not clever enough to work this out but if we added together all of the time potentially saved during an Ofsted inspection, and costed it, that saving could be used to set up a much more regular and proactive system overseen by the LA. If it needed extra funding on top of that surely it is that important.

Whilst safeguarding remains something that feels like a pass or fail in the inspection process we will never be doing it justice. Ongoing dialogues between knowledgeable colleagues about the developing challenges we all face are vital.  If the LA was given a very specific role to facilitate, challenge and support ALL schools in safeguarding our young people it could provide a conduit for all services, that work with young people, to share vital information and resources.

The current system of checks feels like the bare minimum we should be doing and when it comes to keeping our children safe the minimum is not good enough.

Vic Goddard is a founding member of Heads’ Roundtable, co-principal of Passmores Academy and CEO of Passmores Cooperative Learning Community.

“The deciding factor: why we need to be trained in ethical leadership” by @duncanspalding

“The thing that struck me most when I first became a headteacher 14 years ago was…”

For the remainder of our latest blog from Duncan Spalding please click this link:

Duncan is a member of the Core Group of HTRT and is the (non-academy) Executive Headteacher of Aylsham Learning Federation (Aylsham High School, Bure Valley School and John of Gaunt Infant and Nursery School)