I work for a small multi-academy trust (two schools soon to be three) and since conversion in 2011 we have fostered strong relationships with other academies in the area – most of whom converted at a similar time to us.
Prior to conversion, there was a network group run by the Local Authority which we all attended but were no longer ‘allowed’ to after conversion. In reality it would not have been relevant due to the different needs of maintained schools and the academies.
During the conversion process, we shared information, presentations from potential software providers, accountants, legal and other professional services, the list could go on. This support was invaluable and gave reassurance when we individually did not know what we did not know!
Following conversion we continued to meet termly with a varied number of schools attending each meeting. At one point the numbers dwindled and I wondered if the group would survive. At one of the meetings we discussed the value of continuing. I was convinced there would not be the appetite for it, but it became clear that it was a more valuable link for colleagues than I realised and the numbers attending suggested. We continued!
Over a year ago, at the start of lockdown when we were initially all working from home, as busy if not busier than when we were in school with additional challenges such as ordering school meal vouchers, we started a weekly call to discuss both business and non-business!
A regular Zoom call was set up and I think we would all say this saved our sanity – we realised we were not the only ones facing the challenges that on your own seemed insurmountable and were able to support each other as well as being able to catch up on some idle chatter as you would in the office at the coffee machine or in the toilets!
These calls have continued since then even now we are back in school. Sometimes everyone joins and sometimes there are fewer of us, but the calls are invaluable. You always gain reassurance and at times learn something new that someone else has discovered. They make you realise you cannot possibly know everything but usually someone else has the answer or at least an idea that leads to it.
So in conclusion, I would recommend joining a network group in your area, making the effort to attend meetings, even if you are busy as the rewards far outweigh the time taken in the meeting and who goes home with an empty desk anyway!