An audience of headteachers, school leaders and education decision makers came together to discuss developing ambitious future teaching opportunities in Cumbria.

National experts spoke at Shaping Our Future: Making Cumbria the best place to teach, an event organised by Cumbria Education Trust (CET), and national education charity, Ambition Institute.

The audience at the Shaping Our Future conference

CET Chief Executive Lorrayne Hughes opened the conference at Penrith’s North Lakes Hotel and said she hoped it would be the first of many.
She urged all those present to play a part in shaping the future and, referring to the imminent takeover of local authority services by new unitary councils, said: “We are at a really exciting time in Cumbria, we will move on and be strong as we move forward.”

Cumbria Education Trust Chief Executive, Lorrayne Hughes, opened the conference

The conference heard from several speakers that collective action was the best way to ensure all children in Cumbria have access to a quality education and greater opportunities.

Ambition Institute’s Executive Director of Strategy and Impact, Marie Hamer, MBE, said the critical question was what it would take to make Cumbria one of the best places to be a teacher and leader.

Marie said Ambition Institute, which works in partnership with CET in providing early career and professional development opportunities for teachers, placed particular importance on working in the North of England, where educational inequality can be more pronounced, especially for rural communities. Over the past year, it has delivered professional development training to more than 23,000 teachers and school leaders, reaching more than 2.5 million children.

Vicky Beer, CBE, the Department for Education’s (DfE) North West Regional Director, said it was vital to ensure there was support to enable all schools to progress.

Leora Cruddas, CBE, Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said she believed a group of schools working together in a trust was the best opportunity for building a system that keeps on improving.

And Dan Barton, Cumbria County Council’s Assistant Director for Education and Skills reflected on the ‘marvellous things’ that happen in Cumbria.

He pointed to outcomes well above national averages and the long-term improvement in results before Covid and said there were many reasons to be optimistic.

The panel gets ready for discussion

After a panel discussion that also included Matt Hood, OBE, Chief Executive of the Oak National Academy; Jen Barker, Senior Dean of Learning Design at Ambition Institute and DFE North West’s Dan Colebourn, the audience was asked to consider how to drive forward educational excellence in the county.

Among themes raised were the challenges of rural sparsity, surplus school places, unprecedented mental health and SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) demand and financial pressures.

Potential opportunities identified included a collective will to pursue an agenda of improvement and to ensure teaching was seen as an exciting career option, developing great career support for teachers and the stated ambitions of Cumbria’s new unitary authorities to tackle inequality and increase opportunities for all.

Workington Academy pupil Layla performing songs for delegates