As the education sector begins to reflect on the Schools White Paper published by the department for education in May, which sets out ambitious plans to move schools into strong academy trusts. A Multi-academy trust in Tameside has embarked on a £1.5 million investment across its four schools this summer, to improve the overall environment for its students. 

Great Academies Education Trust, based in Ashton-under-Lyne is investing funds to expand the library provision at Great Academy Ashton which includes a new two-floored library within the heart of the school with a “reading” themed aspect on the ground floor and a “study research” themed aspect on the second floor.

In support of the Department for Education’s positive Behaviour Culture and Good Health agendas, the trust’s secondary schools are seeing improvements to their outdoor environments with the construction of specialist canopies to provide covered lessons, recreation and assembly spaces no matter what the weather.

. Photo credit Anthony Devlin

Great Academies has committed an extra £60,000 to invest in the ICT Local Area Network at Copley Academy, as part of a £300,000 digital excellence programme to enhance the learning environment within its schools. Investment is being made in both hardware and software to support Reading and Maths, high-specification equipment to support Graphic Design, Art, and Music, and student experiences with the use of Virtual Reality headsets.

The Multi-Academy Trust has also committed over £100,000 to convert space, formerly occupied by a private day nursery, into a new special educational needs and disability (SEND) and inclusion centre at one secondary school which is set to be opened over the summer term.

This will bring the total investment in estate across its four schools to around £4.5 million over the last three years.

Brendan Loughran, CEO at Great Academies Education Trust said:

“We’ve invested in these academies because we want to give our learners every opportunity to learn in facilities fit for the 21st Century. The canopies replicate what is seen in many schools across continental Europe, although in the northwest of England it may be more about shelter from the rain than protection from the sun! These canopies provide new spaces for outdoor learning, shelter for recreation and sporting activities and also lend themselves to outdoor assemblies, an occasional necessity in the era of Covid”

“As part of our Trust, we ensure that all of our academies are supported not just with educational and business matters but with infrastructure too, enabling teachers and support staff to focus on teaching and learning”. 

The focus of the values-driven trust is to help every child fulfil their potential, by making sure teachers and schools have the trust’s support in everything from teacher training to providing high-quality curriculum design.

Great Academies’ approach to school improvement is successful as schools can access specialist experts, within its professional subject networks, where support, advice, and guidance are provided by individuals who come with not just national but international reputations. Ian Taylor, National Lead for Mathematics and Kate Jones, who was commissioned by the BBC to write content for BBC Bitesize Modern Foreign Languages are just two members of the team which are supporting schools.

The Great Academies Improvement and Support Team visit schools regularly to provide one-to-one support to teachers and leaders so that they can continue to improve the quality of education for all children and young people.

Sarah Power, the Enterprise Coordinator from Greater Manchester Combined Authority who has been working with the team on a trust-wide Careers and Future Thinking intuitive, said

“It’s inspirational to hear about Great Academies plans to not only support its students but to reach out to support their families also to improve social mobility through education”.

Photo credit Anthony Devlin

“The trust is working on embedding careers in the curriculum, to not just teach its students, but to give them a line of sight into their future, and to show them the amazing career opportunities within Greater Manchester and beyond!”

The school improvement approach is not only gaining interest from many other schools, who are keen to be involved but it’s also being praised by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, who recognised the positive impact the Trust had made in a recent inspection of Copley Academy. Inspectors highlighted that ‘over the last two years, leaders, trust representatives and those responsible for governance have made great strides in putting Copley Academy back together’.

Promising results have also been achieved through a recent inspection of the Trust’s Initial Teacher Education programme which prepares trainee teachers for life in primary and secondary schools.    

Brendan Loughran, CEO at Great Academies Education Trust said: “The Trust is keen to expand with Greater Manchester schools and small trusts who share our values – genuine, respect, excellence, ambitious achievement and teamwork. Our base is in Tameside, but we aim to develop partnerships with schools and small trusts across Greater Manchester.”