The new chairman of trustees at HEART Multi Academy Trust (MAT), David Hoare, has said the past few months of turmoil have given them a chance to create stronger relationships between them and parents and teachers.
Speaking to the Bedford Independent just after the announcement of his appointment, David added that “Bedford Pride” would also play a significant role in shaping education at HEART MAT schools.
HEART MAT has had a trying time over the past six months.
Parents were outraged when news broke in October last year that Trust managers and trustees were looking to restructure the staff and governors at Cauldwell, Sharnbrook and Shackleton Primary Schools.
The restructure would have seen an executive head teacher for all three schools appointed, replacing individual heads.
Governing bodies would also be removed and some other staff positions may also have been made redundant.
What followed were significant protests from parents resulting in a lengthy mediation process, supported by the Department for Education, rowdy public meetings and the resignations of the chairman of the board of trustees, Hanif Patel and Heart MAT CEO, Claire Smith.
This effectively halted the restructure plans.
Since then there has been a period of reflection on both sides. Under acting chair, Sue Clark, HEART MAT began looking for a new trustee chair and CEO, also speaking honestly about the mistakes made.
They admitted that lack of communication and transparency was the main factor in the way the restructure was received. They’ve now appointed a dedicated PR consultant to help them with this.
However, David says, while there were lessons learnt, he doesn’t want to dwell on the past too much and it’s what happens now that counts: “In order to be able to improve the educational standards in a town you need communities to come together…”
“This is a Trust with 2,500 students across four schools. To become really long-term successful, we need to make a really good job of developing educational standards with those pupils.
“That will take time, we need to get the right structures in place and get the right relationship with parent pupils teachers.”
But where would this lead? David says that once they’ve got how they run the three primaries and Bedford Academy sorted, then there may well be options for the Trust to expand.
“I hope that other schools will say that being part of HEART MAT is something really good, not just really good for pupils, who are at the core of everything we do, but also for the teachers.”
And David says that can’t happen without the support and help of the parents: “I was really impressed when I heard about the concerns that parents had [over the restructure]…
“Parents need to be concerned [with how their children are educated] and if they’re worried they need to suggest that maybe some things are different. This is a partnership.
“We’re going to need to learn from the parents and similarly we need to help the parents as well to provide a really positive contribution in what we’re all interested in, which is to put the pupil at the centre.
“Everything we do we should ask is this good or bad for the young person, in an attempt to enormously improve their opportunities for life further on.”
The SSC (Shackleton Shortstown and Caldwell) Action Group, made up of parents campaigning against the now defunct restructures, say they’re looking forward to working closely with HEART MAT moving forward.
They will no doubt welcome David’s words and his experience and career to date give the sense that he certainly stands by what he says.
He’s a former chair of Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills is currently chair of the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT).
In fact the morning we met was during the Teenage Cancer Trust’s annual week-long series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. Bedford’s very own Tom Grennan headlined the Wednesday night.
Briefly asking him about TCT, David’s passion for supporting young people could not be more clear.
He spoke about his personal connection to the charity dedicated to helping teenagers and young adults facing unthinkable challenges.
So does he believe he can use that passion to raise educational standards in Bedford that HEART MAT will be the TRUST they promised to be? His simple response: “If I thought that Heart MAT weren’t prepared to face the issues I wouldn’t be here.”