New terms, new children, new schools – and old chairs!

The first week of the new academic year is always an exciting time, as we welcome new children and staff to our schools and look forward to the implementation of the plans and strategies that we have committed to in order to see further improvement to, and within, our schools.

2018/19 has been particularly special, as it has seen the opening of a brand-new school within the Trust (John Taylor Free School) and the re-location of myself and my team to the new building.  The excitement amongst staff and children at the new school was palpable – and contagious.  Looking smart, behaving impeccably, and embracing exciting opportunities to learn and play together, the children left on Friday tired but exhilarated. I know this scene was replicated across all our schools.

Welcoming new staff, and welcoming back existing ones, is always a pleasure.  Last week, I spent some time with our trainee teachers in the Teaching School Training Centre, and also visited colleagues at five of our schools.  On Monday (10th September), the Trust is hosting an informal get-together for staff new to JTMAT, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know some of our new colleagues a little better.

For this month’s blog, I wanted to share with you one of the messages that I delivered to school staff last week.  I recently read “Thinking for a Change” by John C Maxwell, and one of the analogies he used I felt was particularly resonant at the start of the school year.

Maxwell refers to the “old chair” that we all have in our thinking.  Once it was new, maybe even innovative.  Over the years, it has become more and more comfortable – a fixture and fitting of our lives – as it becomes moulded to our individual shape.  It’s cosy, familiar, and something we’re very fond of.  But to outside eyes, it may look shabby, and appear antiquated. Moreover, it will have lost the support and upholstery that it once had. In short, continuing to enjoy and experience it may be quite bad for us.


The challenge of such “old chairs” is that they can be hard to get rid of – or even think to re-upholster – because of the familiarity and even affection with which we hold them. But the longer we do nothing, the more our posture will suffer.

Working with amazing staff in great schools with excellent outcomes is a privilege and a joy.  But we all need to think about the “old chairs” in our mentalities, ensuring that our hunger for growth, creativity, innovation, and excellence compels us to look with fresh eyes at our practice – and regularly. Even colleagues new to teaching have their “old chairs” – and I certainly have mine.  We all do.  Recognising this reality is the first step towards ensuring we don’t slump into them!

Thanks for reading.



John Taylor MAT Successful in Further Free School Application

A new primary free school planned for Lichfield will become part of the John Taylor Multi-Academy Trust (JTMAT), the Department for Education has announced.

The school will be built at Fradley Park, and will eventually accommodate 210 pupils plus a nursery at a cost of around £4 million.It is being built in response to increased demand for school places in the area.

JTMAT were announced as the successful sponsor after a competitive application process, appraised by a panel that included representatives from Staffordshire County Council, the Department for Education, and the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

The John Taylor Multi Academy Trust already runs a number of successful primary and secondary schools in Staffordshire.

CEO of the Trust, Mike Donoghue expressed his delight upon receiving the confirmation of the Trust’s success:

“We are naturally excited and extremely proud to have been given the responsibility to lead the new school at Fradley Park.  With a growing Trust that currently comprises many local good and outstanding primary schools, and a track record of successfully delivering a Free School collaboratively with Staffordshire County Council, we felt that we were well-placed to offer an exciting, high quality, and innovative offer to the children and families in the area.  I’m delighted that, after a rigorous application and interview process, the selection panel agreed.”

“Now the work begins in earnest to fulfil our vision to create the best school we possibly can.  The application was very much a team effort, and so will be our work to deliver the school to the community. We look forward to working alongside our partner organisations to make all this happen.  We couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Chair of John Taylor MAT, Gareth Moss added:

This is a landmark achievement for the Trust, and a validation of our current position as a leading provider in the area.  I would like to thank the project team for their work to date, and Staffordshire County Council – officers and councillors – for their continued support.  We have every intention of exceeding their expectations!

County Councillor Philip White, Cabinet Member for Learning and Skills at Staffordshire County Council said:

“John Taylor Multi Academy Trust has a proven track record in delivering results and an understanding of the challenges that can be faced in developing a brand new school.”

“We are really pleased that a sponsor has been appointed that understands both the primary and secondary school ethos, who can work with the local community and above all are excited and passionate about an excellent education for every child.”

The new primary school is due to open to nursery and reception pupils in September 2020.

The Trust welcomes enquires about the Fradley Park Primary Free School.  Please e-mail to express interest in admissions or employment opportunities.

For further information contact

Mike Donoghue, CEO John Taylor MAT

“Getting the best out of everyone.” – JTMAT Governance Conference 2018

As we approach the end of the academic year, I look forward to our annual JTMAT Governance Conference.  This annual event is a great opportunity for many of our colleagues from local governing bodies across all our schools to meet, share, and learn together.  We have benefitted from the generosity of insightful and expert speakers – giving their time freely – on a range of matters as diverse as the strategic direction of the system in the region (from a Regional School Commissioner perspective), through working with a Teaching School to risk management strategies.

This year, our theme is “Getting the best out of everyone.”  We will be hearing from a MAT CEO who has developed workload mitigation strategies for her staff, recognised by the Department for Education.  We’ll be listening to presentations about ensuring Pupil Premium funding is spent effectively to make a difference to children who need additional support to overcome disadvantages, and we’ll be developing our skills of data analysis to ensure that no child, or group of children, is left behind. I’m really looking forward to the day.

You may well have read the Secretary of State’s speech recently about the importance of great governance.  If you missed it, there’s a link to it here:

He drew to a close with the phrase, “Without you, our schools simply wouldn’t run.”  I firmly agree with him.  Within JTMAT, in addition to the annual conference, we try and support good governance through a variety of mechanisms.  We have a governance portal that is a valuable repository for resources, contains links to sources of support, and an excellent way to view agendas, minutes and meeting papers.  We have a Clerk’s Forum in which our clerks can meet and discuss best practice, supporting one another. We have committed to providing governor training via the National Forest Teaching School free of charge for all who want it.

JTMAT Governance Portal

As we’re mid-way through the World Cup, I’ll close with a football analogy. Perhaps governing bodies are like football referees: the best ones don’t interrupt play unnecessarily, know the laws of the game and interpret them wisely and consistently without fear or favour, and seek only the best outcome from others.  Like referees, sometimes the great governors and governing bodies go unnoticed a great deal more than the bad ones!  So, here’s a great big “Thank you!” to our governors, and for the time and expertise they give freely and selflessly.  “Without you, our schools wouldn’t run.”

Thanks for reading.