Academies Enterprise Trust

Recovering heart and soul

“If they are not good enough to take on any new schools, why are they good enough to run existing schools…?” (Steve McCabe MP)

It was March 2014, and Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) was on the ropes. The organisation had grown rapidly to become one of the country’s largest multi-academy trusts, but poor academic results and accusations of financial mismanagement had left AET on the brink.

Roll the clock forward 4 years. A new senior leadership team has been appointed and a ‘root and branch’ change management programme has succeeded in putting the house in order – with schools showing improvement and central Government viewing the organisation more favourably.

There was, however, still a crucial missing piece of the puzzle: heart and soul. In all the focus on addressing the ‘what’ and ‘how’, the organisation realised they still needed to crack their ‘why’ – the overarching purpose behind the running of 60+ schools looking after 3,500+ pupils.

What happens after they leave?

It was at this point that CEO Julian Drinkall invited us to come and help the leadership team frame the organisation’s purpose – in the form of a new vision, mission and values for the Trust.

During our first workshop, we asked the leadership team a killer question: ‘What do you want to happen once these children leave school?’ The answer that came back: ‘We want them to live remarkable lives’. With that simple, heartfelt response the seeds were planted for the organisation’s newfound purpose.

It was a process that put the ‘Remarkable Lives’ of children at the heart – and then asked the questions:

•  What does it look like for their lives to be remarkable?
•  What is our primary role in making that happen?
•  What values should guide us in that endeavour?

With the help of further workshop with leadership – and discussions with other staff and teachers within the Trust – we began to put answers to those questions and collaboratively create vision, mission and values statements for AET in the new day.

Adding a little bit of magic

To ensure ‘Remarkable Lives’ wouldn’t just become words on a screen – but would be an inspiring and widely understood idea – we knew we would need to get creative. We enlisted the help of Matt Abbott (spoken word poet and star of the Nationwide ‘This is Home’ advert) and Ben Hodgson (filmmaker for BBC and Channel 4 documentaries). Together, we created a ‘Remarkable Lives’ spoken word poem and film, bringing together over 40 enthusiastic pupils from a school in Birmingham for an exciting day’s shoot at one of the Trust’s flagship schools in Birmingham.

The result was a piece of poetry and a film that captured the heartbeat of a revived organisation, and – when first shown at the annual gathering of Headteachers – left few dry eyes in the room.

Unleashing a wave of creativity

The impact of the ‘Remarkable Lives’ launch to those Headteachers exceeded even our own expectations. Headteachers quickly took the message, the video and related resources back to their schools and unleashed a wave of creativity amongst teachers and pupils. Before long we were seeing poems, films, and even pieces of art – created by local schools – and each capturing the spirit of ‘Remarkable Lives’ within that community.

The impact of our work has gone deeper than an initial, emotive reaction. During a post-launch project – that involved supporting a number of schools with their embedding of the new vision, mission, and values – one of the Headteachers remarked on what the real impact of our work had been:

“With Remarkable Lives, people now feel part of something larger…and the fact that we are part of AET has become much more relevant for staff and pupils.”

The final step was to capture this new-found purpose within a simple proposition that would, at a glance, give parent, child, governor, teacher or staff member a glimpse of what the organisation was about. The answer? To turn the purpose statement into an invitation: Find your remarkable.

Those words – adopted as the new strapline for the Trust – capped off an exciting initial journey with AET and signaled to all those concerned that this was an organisation with its heart on display and visibly in the right place.

“Right from the outset, the ABA team really understood our pressures and specific circumstances. They listened well and guided us towards a solution that was completely authentic, yet utterly powerful. The impact of their work has been felt across the organisation and we are proud to have continued our relationship with them, building on the good work we’ve begun.”

Jonathan Allen, Director of Marketing & Communications