Wellspring Blog

01 Jan 2019   |   Mark Wilson, CEO

I am delighted to contribute the first of what will be a regular series of Wellspring blogs.  In common with our culture, subsequent blogs will be contributed by a different leader from throughout our community.

In this post, I want to go back to basics and then fast forward to the future.

I believe that if you do the basics well, and keep doing them well, then success looks after itself.  Wellspring is a community.  The Trust does the basics within that community.  It acts as the safeguard, Quality Assurer and steward of effective schools that operate day-to-day with de facto independence.  Where effectiveness isn’t secure, the Trust supports and intervenes.  Where effectiveness is assured, the Trust stays in the background and supports the magic to happen.  It’s that basic, and I believe is the way that it should be.  I believe that the key opportunity for schools in England presented by the Academies programme was and remains the prospect of communities of schools united by common principles coming together under benign stewardship that Quality Assures their effectiveness.  And this is what I believe Wellspring does.

The words benign and stewardship are very important ones to me.  Stewardship is important because it speaks of ongoing oversight and assurance.  Experience leads me to the conclusion that the key reason schools fail is a lack of consistent and effective Quality Assurance.  The basics become forgotten or overlooked.  Benign is important because it means kind, gentle, warm-hearted, compassionate, caring and benevolent.  These are values that I hope we aim to foster in young people in our schools.  These are attributes that I believe can enable communities to thrive.  These are things that I hope others would demonstrate towards me in life.  These are attributes that I believe a great and really committed organisation can have at its heart and that all great schools have.  A school community united by common principles under benign stewardship sounds like the optimum school system to me.  Such a system encourages school leaders to hold onto, or regain where they have been lost, the professional values that so many appear to have felt so pressurised so often to set aside in recent years.

We at Wellspring are humble enough to acknowledge that there are many ways to climb the mountain and that there are many viewpoints out there.  We are resolute and confident enough to advocate passionately for our point of view.  My very strongly held point of view is that any organisation that enjoys stewardship over schools should demonstrate conscience in its actions.  That’s why Wellspring values leaders who do the right thing over those who do things right.  That’s why Wellspring puts Inclusion at the heart of its message.  That’s why Wellspring advocates for Positive Regard as an entitlement for all young people.  That’s why Wellspring is developing a groundbreaking Compassionate Leadership professional qualification with our partners at Leeds Beckett University.  That’s why Wellspring leaders do not ignore the greater good of their families, their communities and their society in general in their thinking and their decision-making.

Quality, compassion, humility and benign stewardship are good basics for us to have as a community.  Those basics have led to the emergence of a very strong collaboration of nineteen Academies over four years, united in common purpose and with a common resolve.  That community serves some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable student groups in England.  We do important work on behalf of our families, our communities and our society.  We are proud of that and we are proud of our achievements.  We are proud of one another.  We make a difference.  That difference includes the development of MindSpace.  MindSpace supports the wellbeing and mental health needs of young people, their families and staff in schools.  As a service, it is ahead of its time.  And its work and influence has just begun.  A huge opportunity that we enjoy as a Trust is the space to innovate.  MindSpace is one very good example of our innovation.  It points towards a future of integrated support for young people and their families in furtherance of a kindness, care and compassion agenda in our schools and communities.

And to fast forward to that future…

I believe that Wellspring will continue to grow as a vibrant and dynamic professional community that spans the region, one that will make a substantial difference to education in England.  Central to that vibrancy and dynamism is the continued growth of our professional networks.  From inception, the Trust has invested heavily in the development of professional networks.  We foster the conditions and curate networks rather than mandate them.  Active networks are essential to renewal and growth in an autonomous system.  The risk inherent within an autonomous model is that of localised isolation.  Isolation risks insularity.  Insularity risks decline.  Success risks becoming unevenly distributed.  Benign stewardship cannot tolerate the risk of unevenly distributed success because that requires some young people in our care to be badly served.  Simply, none of us would accept that.

The most effective teams and the most resilient organisations are cognitively diverse (different perspectives, backgrounds and thinking styles) and psychologically safe (people know that their contributions are valued).  The sharing of ideas, inspirations, celebrations, methods and insights breeds free-thought, breakthroughs, new learning, positivity and renewal.  This is the cultural framework that I believe every Wellspring difference maker (that’s all of us) should view as an entitlement.  Networks need us all.  Sharing needs us all. The culture of this organisation belongs to us all.  Our future must be one of networks, networks, networks in order to preserve our highly effective working model that guards against the risk of unevenly distributed success.  This future is scaleable.  We can welcome many more committed members into our community in the years to come.

My ‘And finally…’ is a quote from William Penn.  It goes, “We pass through this world but once, so do now any good you can, and show now any kindness you can show, for we shall not pass this way again.”

Put integrity first.  Do the basics well.  Share generously.  Support one another.  Make a difference.

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