Forge Wood Primary school is joining our GLF colleagues in celebrating a decade of partnership working which started with Glyn School and Danetree Primary and now has more than 40 schools, including our own. October saw the milestone anniversary of the two schools working together to lay the foundations for what, a decade later, has become GLF Schools, with 41 secondary and primary schools across five different local education authorities.
GLF’s CEO Jon Chaloner was headteacher of Glyn when it began, and has since moved to his current position, covering the whole group and guiding that initial partnership onwards, outwards and upwards to what it has become today. He said what began out of necessity soon emerged as an opportunity for something much bigger and more innovative.
“At the end of September 2010, Danetree did not have a permanent headteacher, so the local authority asked local schools for their availability to help,” he said.
“Glyn was a National Support School and I was, and still am, a National Leader of Education, so the motivation was simple. Danetree’s children needed leadership as soon as possible, so we put together a team to help, and things developed from there.” Glyn had been through something of a transformation of its own with its Ofsted rating moving from satisfactory to outstanding across the course of seven terms between 2006 and 2009, so Jon said it was clear that they were in a position to lend a helping hand.
“We were ideally placed to share our experiences of a rapid school improvement journey but we soon learnt how the primary sector was different, so we couldn’t just replicate what we’d achieved at Glyn,” he said.
“This has proved to be a valuable lesson for what GLF has gone on to become. One size does not fit all when it comes to schools, and things need to be made to measure. We always bear that in mind.”
The collaboration was important for both schools and current headteacher at Glyn, Matt Duffield, explained: “The journey in school improvement that Glyn has been on since the partnership with Dantree began in 2010 has been remarkable. We are delighted that this association has developed into a much richer and broader relationship with the 40 other schools and 15,000 children.” Long-term planning and learning lessons for future projects were nowhere on the agenda at this point, however.
“The partnership was only intended to last for that one academic year,” Jon continued. “Link-ups of this sort between schools were becoming common at that time, but this was the first occasion in Surrey where a primary and a secondary school had teamed up that way.
"It was a win-win situation, though. Danetree needed leadership to address matters from its Ofsted report the previous year, and it was a great opportunity for Glyn’s 12 Advanced Skills Teachers to gain more experience in that field.
"Unintentionally, it soon became clear how much both sides were benefitting from the experience, and how advantageous it might be to pursue it further.”
The headteacher at Danetree school Bethan Smith said the school had ‘benefited unreservedly from the support provided by GLF.
“As a result of effective partnership working, sharing expertise and learning from one another, Danetree has gone from strength-to-strength. The highly skilled central team provides support and challenge, which has enabled all schools within the trust to work effectively to achieve a common goal. I feel privileged to be part of the academy trust,” she said.
A subsequent Ofsted inspection in November of that year noted Danetree’s improvements as a result of the partnership, so much so that the local authority asked Glyn’s governors to extend it for the year 2011-12, which Danetree’s governors welcomed. This later became permanent, and as Glyn was an academy, Dantree converted to being one as well, and in September 2012 GLF Schools was founded.
Shortly after this, GLF Schools received an approach from the governors of another local school, Cuddington Croft Primary, and later that year the Department of Education identified Glyn as a potential sponsor for several other underperforming Surrey primary schools, with four more schools joining in autumn 2013, and two brand new primaries also signing up. GLF Schools was starting to grow, and has continued to do so, but only as and when it feels right.
“Today GLF comprises schools that have chosen to join, brand new schools that we have opened and also three more sponsored schools where there was a record of underperformance,” Jon said.
“The blend of schools is strategic, rather than a random collection. Expansion has needed to be based upon the geography of our existing schools as well as being in a position to support all schools, whatever their performance at that time.”
Despite many schools now bearing the GLF brand, Jon says the priority has always been the individuality of the school, not the group identity. “We always aim that schools should retain their individual identity and place in their local community, with our identity being less prominent,” he said. “One thing that I hope does unite us all, though, is the message of being stronger with us than without us. That was the philosophy when it was just two schools, and it remains the same now.”
GLF Schools’ greatest achievement over the last 10 years, Jon says, is the pupils its schools have produced. “Their personal achievements are vast and these are enabled through the partnerships between home, school and the trust,” he said.
“Our schools are bound by a sense of purpose for our children and their families, and our leaders and governors contribute in many ways to the group’s continued development. We are one team, with many shared aspirations for each school.”
The past 10 years have taken an initial two schools on a journey to something much bigger than anyone involved at the start could have anticipated, and when it comes to looking forwards, Jon is happy to keep his head down and continue encouraging the good work across the group.
"In five years’ time we’ll still be here, supporting schools to be the best they possibly
can be," he said.
"Education is essential for our society. Our schools will continue to be schools for their local communities, a place where all children who attend have the opportunity to ‘grow, learn and flourish’."