The Romero Catholic Academy, established in 2015, is made up of seven primary schools and one secondary school based across Coventry and has around 500 members of staff.
Uniting eight separate schools to form a Multi-Academy Company understandably came with its challenges. Each of the schools ran independently with their own structures, processes and leadership styles. Our job was to join the schools together under one umbrella and ensure that all staff and Governors were onboard and happy with the changes.
One thing we learnt early on was that the Academy’s vision, mission and aims were key in this process, so we ensured these were not just on posters and websites, but spoken about in performance management, covered at key events such as our annual staff conference and included in our strategic plan. We wanted to make sure that every single person across the Academy at every level was on the same page and knew what we were trying to achieve.
Shared services team
Bringing eight schools together made us one of the bigger employers in the city so we needed a management structure that was fit for purpose for a large organisation. We found that all of the schools had generalists trying to manage quite specialist services, so we made the decision to introduce a shared services team – something I would say is essential to anyone looking to set up an academy of our size.
Through this we were then able to analyse exactly what the schools were outsourcing, looking at what was effective – and what wasn’t. We looked at everything from HR, finance, catering, IT, buildings and teaching and learning and made the decision to bring a lot of it in-house, employing specialists who could develop a deeper understanding of the Academy as a business.
Our first priority was to understand the finances, so we recruited a really effective finance team. At the time we were spending £14 million on staffing, £4 million on running the schools and had £1.6 million in the reserves. Changing our finance systems and managing the contracts centrally has meant we can now spend more on teaching and learning staff and less on school running costs. We have reduced our supplier base from 300 to around 100, and tightening up on contracts has allowed us to put more staff in front of our children, which shows in our improving academic results.
Another priority task was making sure there was the same high-quality approach to teaching and learning across all of our schools. To do this we appointed Key Stage Specialists to ensure there was synergy between the schools and that the quality of teaching was consistent. They work with our teaching staff to share expertise, share planning and share best practice. It has worked fantastically well and has been really appreciated by school staff.
Throughout the whole process of setting up and developing an academy, communication with staff is absolutely key. There was a lot of negativity around academies and at first there was apprehension that we would adopt an autocratic model across the Academy. To try and combat this we have always engaged with stakeholders and been honest and truthful on what we need to achieve and making sure we deliver on this.
We have worked hard to bring all staff together at every opportunity, from staff conferences and inter-school sports events to staff socials – making sure they all feel like a family of schools. We have introduced annual staff surveys to gather staff feedback and I am proud to say that not only has staff satisfaction improved dramatically but progress in our schools has risen significantly since 2015, showing that what we are building is delivering better results.
Patrick Taggart is Director of Operations at The Romero Catholic Academy.