Ex coal miner sets out vision for raising standards at Yorkshire’s biggest academy chain

School Partnership Trust Academies chief executive Paul Tarn.
School Partnership Trust Academies chief executive Paul Tarn.
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THE NEW head of Yorkshire’s biggest academy chain has taken an unusual route into school leadership.

Paul Tarn took over as the new chief executive of the troubled School Partnership Trust Academies earlier this year after rising through the ranks of another major chain in the region: Outwood Grange Academies Trust – one of the most successful in the North.

But his working career did not start in the classroom.

After leaving school he became a coal miner at Grimethorpe Colliery, in Barnsley, following in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather.

During the pit closure programme he decided to train and went to night school for four years and then on to university in order to be able to pursue a career in teaching in his late 20s.

From there he has become a successful head and now a chief executive of an academies trust.

When asked how his background in mining impacts on his work now, he said: “I can communicate with people from different communities and because of my background I am committed to improving the outcomes for children growing up in the areas where our schools serve. He added: “I went to work in Grimethorpe in 1981. I didn’t have the qualifications I needed to go into teaching but went to night school for four years. During the late 1980s when the pit closure programme was in full swing I decided I wanted something else.”

After training at Sheffield Hallam he went into teaching starting his first job at City School in Sheffield in 1995.

Since then he has risen through the ranks of Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT) leading several schools out of special measures and becoming OGAT’s deputy chief executive.

In March this year he took on the role of chief executive of the SPTA, the largest academy chain in Yorkshire.

The academy chain expanded rapidly during the early days of the coalition government’s academies programme from 2010 onwards and now runs more than 40 schools, mainly in Yorkshire.

However it was criticised last year by both Ofsted and a Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) over standards in some of its secondary schools.

In a letter seen by The Yorkshire Post last year Jennifer Bexon-Smith, the RSC for East Midlands and the Humber, warned bosses at SPTA that the Department for Education had concerns about standards at 13 of their schools.

Mr Tarn said he was now restructuring the academy chain to improve results and the SPTA’s finances. He said: “The issue for the trust in the past has been that there was not a trust-wide focus on rapid school improvement. There was an aggregation of the willing. There was a sense of partnership, of schools joining a club, but there was not a ceaseless focus on standards.” However he said that there were also many strengths within SPTA – highlighting Garforth Academy in Leeds, the founding school of the academy chain, as a strong performing school.

Mr Tarn said SPTA needed to ensure that successful practice withing its schools was well established across the trust. He said he was planning to ensure schools worked in local clusters and with directors responsible for driving up standards in particular areas and in SPTA’s primary schools.

He said the biggest boost he had had since taking on the role at SPTA was the appetite the teaching staff had to help raise standards.

He said he intended to implement some of the approaches that had worked at OGAT, adding: “Its about ensuring systems are in place that underpin success. You do not need to change the pupils or teachers to change outcomes.”

A restructure of the SPTA has led to members of the National Union of Teachers’ taking strike action at one of the schools affected, De Warenne Academy in Doncaster.

The union has said the changes are leading to the loss of jobs and the narrowing of pupils’ education. Mr Tarn said the changes were necessary for both financial and academic reasons. He said one of the biggest factors in underperformance at SPTA schools was pupils being asked to take on too many GCSE subjects who then were then not given enough time to learn or revise for them.

And he said without the trust cutting costs it was projected to lose £6.8m this year.