Strong school governance has a vital role to play in ensuring every child gets the life opportunities they deserve.

The message came from Steve Hodson, a National Leader of Governance, one of two keynote speakers, along with Sir David Carter, to address Cumbria Education Trust’s annual Governance and Leadership Conference.

Mr Hodson, Chair of the Board of Trustees at Delta Academies Trust, and Sir David, former National Schools Commissioner, gave insights into a CET-commissioned review of the trust’s progress to date.

The findings were presented to CET’s trustees, Local Advisory Board (LAB) members and senior staff at the virtual conference where the speakers stressed the critical importance of governance to success.

Mr Hodson said what they found at CET was a ‘huge moral purpose of making a real difference to children across the Cumbria region’.

He said there was rapid improvement in outcomes at academies across the trust, increased pupil numbers with parents making CET their choice and greater capacity to accommodate growth. Academies were delivering on their vision, with finances that are healthy and sustainable and governance that is ‘strong, open and stands up well to scrutiny and delivers for pupils and communities’.

He thanked all the attendees for what they had done for children throughout the pandemic. He also quoted Schools System Minister Baroness Berridge who said: ‘Governance has never been more critical to the education of our nation’s young people…the governance duty is, above all, to drive relentless ambition for the young people served by our school system, whatever the circumstances’.

Mr Hodson told the audience: “Why did I become a school governor? It’s about the pupils we are charged to look after, educate and make sure that every penny that comes into our schools is spent in the right direction to make sure that children get the opportunities in life they deserve.

“The way you hold the executive leadership to account is ensuring all of your schools and the wider Cumbria community benefit from the fantastic journey that you are on.”

Sir David, now Executive Director of System Leadership at the Ambition Institute, said what had come across clearly during interviews with CET staff and leaders was the support they’d received, and the ‘credibility of the trust’s ambition to make a difference to its communities’.

He said one of the next steps for CET would be to consider the role of LABs in school improvement. Its members should look at the experience of children, the experience of adults who work at school,  the relationship the school has with the parents/carers and the community and the degree to which the LAB is an ambassador for the trust and can explain the benefits of being part of it.

The trust’s Chair George Beveridge also thanked those invited to the conference for their commitment and ‘the time and effort that you put in right across the trust’.

He said: “We’re all here because we care very deeply about making a difference for our children. Trust should be the bedrock of our shared governance culture. Trust and respect enable those good relationships, challenging questions and courageous conversations.”

Chief Executive Lorrayne Hughes opened the conference by saying every school’s journey out of the pandemic would be different and governance would play a key role in shaping the future of schools and the trust.

She added: “We need to focus all our energy on that and will go into the summer break full of optimism.

“We will start September on the basics, our core values, respect, resilience and responsibility and ‘being the best you can be’. These are all well embedded in our schools, but we can’t revisit them enough.

“Our aim is always to give young people the very best start in life.”