About Us

Our Role

The core purpose of Learners First is to build professional networks and facilitate meaningful partnerships to support the improved quality of educational provision and associated outcomes for children and young people. For us, this means working with schools, academies and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) to build professional networks and facilitate meaningful collaborations in order to help improve the quality of educational provision and outcomes for children and young people. It also means being innovative, creative and, at times, brave. We aim to challenge the status quo and take calculated risks on behalf of the school system by constantly questioning and actively seeking, sharing and celebrating examples of excellent and emerging practice from both within and beyond the education sector. Overall, the partnership aims to add real and significant value to the endeavours of individual schools, academies and MATs, beyond that which any individual entity could achieve alone

Our Principles

We are driven by a strong ethos and sense of moral purpose. Our founding principles still hold true and ensure our approach is authentic, inclusive, collaborative and we remain humble as an organisation. We care about outcomes – we want to support more children to thrive both in school and in later life, we want those new entrants to the teaching profession to have better experiences which equip them to be excellent teachers and remain within the profession, and we want to support leaders and governors to fulfil their roles effectively and drive forward improvements in their respective organisations. But we also want to encourage new and innovative ideas and address some of the inequalities which exist within the system. Therefore, the following guiding principles underpin all we do at Learners First across all areas of our work:

  • We endeavour to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons. Always. 

There is no one ‘right way’ but we will advocate sensible approaches and act with integrity, humility, honesty and openness. 

  • We constructively challenge prevailing orthodoxies. 

Questioning the status quo through innovation and a genuine desire to make a significant and sustainable difference. 

  • We both respect and have a healthy disregard for authority. 

We will ask questions and look for innovative solutions whilst upholding our professional duties and respecting the regulatory frameworks which we, and the partners we serve, operate within.

  • We are an inclusive partnership which operates without fear or favour and believes that quality should always prevail. 

The Nolan principles of public service guide our way of working and ensure we operate with honesty, integrity and generosity of spirit. 

  • We look to address existing imbalances and examples of privilege bias wherever possible in the system. 

We place a huge ethical and moral emphasis on supporting those facing disproportionate disadvantage as a result of social mobility and contextual challenges.

Our Reach

As a South Yorkshire based organisation, much of our work with schools, academies and MATs resides in this and the immediate surrounding areas (particularly south of the South Yorkshire border). However, our work with schools, MATs and wider partners spans the country and involvement in key working parties and new initiatives extend this reach further still. Currently, 127 schools subscribe to Learners First (the vast majority through MAT engagement and growth) but far more access the provision offered by the partnership, particularly through the NPQ qualifications, the English Hub offer and increasingly Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programmes. 

Our History

Learners First was established in 2012, emerging from the first wave of the national Teaching School initiative. We were one of the first 100 Teaching Schools designated in the country and used this role to help connect local schools into the national picture at a time of huge change within the education system. Lots has happened over the last eight years. The role and remit of Learners First has continued to evolve over this time. However, we have remained resolute that in order to have the biggest impact and ensure engagement is ethical, open and transparent, the statutory challenge functions of regulators within the system (such as Local Authorities, MAT Trust Boards, the RSC and the DfE) should not be confused with the partnership’s remit which is focussed on support, professional development and innovation.  

Our Work & Offer to Schools/MATs

What is Learners First? This is a question we are often asked and in reality, due to the scale and scope of our work, it can mean different things to different people. Schools’ engagement with Learners First is often initiated through an individual programme or project and it is unusual for them to access the full suite of opportunities. Therefore, for some the partnership is about teacher training and professional development, for others it is leadership and governance networks and nationally accredited programmes, and for others it is bespoke research, development and system leadership. In truth, it is all of these things and more. It is also about finding and facilitating opportunities to reinvest back into the school system, both in terms of financial resources and capacity, and providing opportunities for schools, MATs and their leaders to become actively involved in the scoping, design and delivery of opportunities. 

Learners First continues to offer a wide range of opportunities and experiences for colleagues across the partnership and work positively with other organisations across the region to stay connected to local developments, including DfE initiatives such as the Teaching School Hubs and targeted school improvement offers. Clearly, the CV-19 pandemic has disrupted many, if not all, planned activities. Most notably for Learners First this has had a significant impact on the face to face programme delivery, school networking and enquiry opportunities, and the support for the English Hub intensive support schools. Although contingency measures are in operation and all commitments to schools and stakeholders are being fulfilled, it is a very different approach. Simultaneously, we must recognise that the pandemic has changed the priorities of many schools and their leaders, and continues to do so as schools operate as ‘bubbles’. Learners First has endeavoured to respond to this in a sensitive, supportive and agile way in order to aid the work and efforts of schools, academies and MATs and maintain and sustain partnerships. 

But alongside side the scale and scope of what we do is depth. Our work is focussed on three core, interdependent areas: Leadership Development and Transformation, School to School Support and Governance Development. We are extremely proud of the role we play within and across the sector but prefer to take a humble approach in the celebration of our achievemeents; our role is to create the conditions and fertile environment in which schools, MATs and their leaders can prosper and to add value to their endeavours for which they rightly take the credit. 

Our Board of Directors

Kate Davies, Chief Executive Officer, White Woods Primary Academy Trust

Jane Fearnley, Chief Executive Officer, Willow Tree Multi Academy Trust

Phil Marshall, Education Consultant, Director White Woods Primary Academy Trust

David Naisbitt, Chief Executive Officer, Inspire Multi Academy Trust

Helen O’Brien, Chief Executive Officer, Wickersley Partnership Trust

Alan Richards, Director Hoyland Common Academy Trust

Nicola Shipman, Chief Executive Officer, Steel City Partnership

Mark Wheeler (Chair), Director Diocese of Sheffield Academy Trust

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