Building Effective and Sustainable Stakeholder Relationships in Schools: The Lionheart Academies Trust

July 06, 2020

Schools and Multi-Academy Trusts do not exist in a vacuum. They are responsible for not only providing academic qualifications, but also for preparing tomorrow’s leaders, today. The ever changing working landscape of schools means that we, as educators, must engage with businesses to better understand the needs of employers, in order to ensure our students are work ready.

In 2016, the Lionheart Academies Trust aimed to further establish and nurture relationships with businesses – both from an educational capacity as well as that which addresses the needs of the employer. It was also during this time that the 2016 Brexit vote took place, creating a level of uncertainty for all organisations, including schools, which were already expected to deliver outstanding outcomes with limited recourses, especially when compared to private institutions. In 2019, Professor Francis Green (UCL) said that “Since 1980, there has been absolutely an enormous expansion of [private school] resources,”

“Resources from fees have trebled since the 1980s in real terms, so these schools are three times as rich as they used to be in the 60s and 70s.”

“It’s absolutely clear that the resources gap is huge – probably bigger than any other resource gap in any other part of the world, as far as I can tell.”

(https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/jan/13/public-schools-david-kynaston-francis-green-engines-of-privilege)

In September 2019, we took the first step in establishing our approach to engagement through an audit of ways in which we work with external organisations. This process was facilitated by Professor Peter Spence (https://holisticemf.co.uk/dr-peter-spence/), a leading academic on how to bridge the interaction gap between schools and organisations. At the same time, we had also been introduced to Ian Guyler (http://www.ianguyler.co.uk/), a local business consultant, and Jenny Cross, Director at Cross Productions (https://www.crossproductions.co.uk/) and editor of Niche magazine (http://www.nichemagazine.co.uk/): Jenny is also an alumnus of our lead school, Beauchamp College. The feedback from Dr Spence, Ian and Jenny was that successfully established relationships with businesses require time, and investment in people. They advised that there has to be a mutual gain for both parties, nurtured and evolved so that the relationship is sustainable. The moral purpose of a school, and the (business) community it serves, is to provide the best education and future preparation for its young people so that they flourish in later life.

Our first opportunity to engage with the business and wider community presented itself in November 2016, as part of the launch of Celebrate Oadby: a trilogy of community events secured by a Big Lottery grant. To truly celebrate the diverse community of Oadby, it was necessary to involve the Oadby stakeholders’ group alongside local business partners such as Leicester Racecourse. Jenny Cross originally facilitated an email introduction to Rob Bracken, the General Manager of Leicester Racecourse – this would cement the beginning of an incredibly positive strategic partnership over the next four years. The trilogy of events –which included the History of Oadby, a Bake-Off and BBQ, Fashion Show and other cultural highlights – was attended by over 1500 people, and gave the wider community an opportunity to showcase Oadby’s specialisms, and local businesses the platform to increase their interaction and engagement. This was the first instance of a mutually beneficial scenario, valuable to all parties involved. Interestingly, many businesses taking part at the events commented that they hadn’t previously considered the value that school engagement could afford their business, beyond providing work placements and experience.

Following the advice and guidance of both Rob Bracken and Ian Guyler, we then formed the Lionheart Academies Trust Business Network – a group set up with the aim of facilitating mutually beneficial student engagement opportunities for both the Lionheart Academies Trust and businesses. This group met on a termly basis where students would showcase their curricular and extracurricular achievements, outline some of the challenges they were facing in terms of getting access to work-place opportunities and also receive guidance on applications and interviews. This network also provided opportunities for young people to converse with businesses and for businesses to have direct access to potential apprentices and employees – whereby we were able to profile the right candidates to facilitate group and individual interviews. This group of businesses also engaged with the annual large-scale mock interview event held in our Trust schools, facilitated by Leicestershire Cares.

From 2017, the Lionheart Academies Trust had set up a working collaboration with the University of Leicester, launching weekly careers talks for our students. The business network is similarly actively involved in these talks, empowering our students to make informed decisions about potential future careers. The University of Leicester also provided sponsorship of our inaugural Trust Student Celebration Awards in September 2017, alongside our business and suppliers network, presenting a scholarship for students who go above and beyond in their efforts to succeed. This event has taken place each year since, advancing to students in Key Stage 4, as well as Key Stage 5 (https://www.lionhearttrust.org.uk/about-the-trust/stakeholders/). This partnership gave the Trust an insight into how businesses can help to support events and opportunities that would otherwise be impossible.

In November 2017, the Lionheart Academies Trust hosted another significant event: a Leicester Business Festival workshop in the Business of Academy Trusts. This provided a platform to highlight opportunities for businesses to work with a growing and successful Trust, both from a commercial perspective and one of corporate social responsibility. This event brought together over 30 organisations – many of which we had not engaged with before – and significantly grew our network for business engagement. This was the first event of its kind to be led and hosted by a school, and represented a significant opportunity in bridging the gap between education and businesses. The event demonstrated to the Trust the value of forming sustained relationships with the business community and in particular with Jenny Cross, Ian Guyler and Rob Bracken – as it is through these key individuals that the Trust has continued to connect with an even larger number of organisations.

At present day, the engagement with businesses, employers, charities and academic institutions has allowed the Lionheart Academies Trust to deliver outstanding opportunities to its students and their families through an improvement in resources and facilities, including the installation of a 3G football pitch at Beauchamp College – a £1m partnership project with the Football Foundation (https://www.lionhearttrust.org.uk/about-the-trust/stakeholders/). Alongside the physical resources, the Trust has also established a schedule of careers and workplace guidance via talks, workshops, mock interviews and support in the annual Student Celebration Awards. The Trust is always looking at ways it can expand its reach and collaboration with organisations whilst maintaining its ethical balance of ensuring that every collaboration is improving opportunities and outcomes for its learners.

 

If after reading this you or your organisation would like to support and work with the Lionheart Academies Trust, then please email rikki.khakhar@lionhearttrust.org.uk

 

Rikki Khakhar – Community, Business and Enterprise Lead