Monday, 08 July 2024 15:07

Formatio: interview with founder trustee Mike Shorten

mikeShortenThe Formatio partnership supports dioceses, Catholic universities, Catholic Multi Academy Trusts (CMATs) and the CES in implementing strategies for Catholic school leadership and governance, as commissioned by the Bishops in 2017.  

Its strategic priorities are teacher recruitment, particularly in Religious Education, as well as developing Catholic leadership and the training of multi-academy trust (MAT) staff. Formatio is made up of four regional hubs comprising the dioceses, CMATs and the four Catholic universities.

Mike Shorten (pictured) is Chief Executive Officer of Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust, which oversees 35 schools in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. He is a founding member of Formatio, joining as a trustee when it was first established.

At the time he was headteacher of Carmel College, in Darlington, where in 1999 he set up the Carmel Teacher Training Partnership (CTTP), an Initial Teacher Training provider which has worked with Leeds Trinity and St Mary’s universities for PGCE provision.

‘Growing our own’

He said: “We felt we couldn't keep on complaining about how there weren't enough teachers unless we did something about it, we needed to grow our own.”

Keeping in touch with sixth form students through their degree is important, Mike said, as well as giving them jobs and internships in between university semesters.

“So rather than stacking shelves at Tesco's they could be coming in and working with Key Stage 3 children and getting a real taste of it, but this needs to be funded,” he said.

“The RE teachers of the next five years are currently in Catholic schools, everyone knows they're not coming from anywhere else, so they're a captive audience.

“As a sector we should be systematically promoting the role of being an RE teacher in the subject, and thinking about what that looks like with careers programs for 13- and 14-year-olds, A level and GCSE RE students.

“We also need to make it more appealing for them to think of teaching as a career either immediately after a degree or maybe later in life as a career changer. There's got to be a different view of teaching always being for people as a vocation for life, in the current climate it's very unusual for people to have a single career throughout their life.”

Developing new leadership

Through Formatio Mike also set up the National Catholic Leadership Programme. This initiative, for the formation and recruitment of headteachers, was piloted by the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle and has since been rolled out to others.

Bishop Hogarth offers staff development opportunities to move around within its network of schools, for instance by offering secondments to senior leaders for a month, term or year, and with in-house leadership training that includes Catholic Social Teaching, ethics and character development.

Mike explained how one of the benefits of being in a trust was the support of new headteachers. New headteachers are supported through the Ofsted process by experienced staff, in person while the inspection team is at the school — reducing the barriers to leadership and encouraging deputies to become headteachers.

Non-Catholic CMAT staff in senior non-reserved posts such as in HR, IT or finance, are also trained in running a large organisation from a Catholic perspective.

Opportunities for students and staff

The CMAT system offers opportunities beyond what can be provided by a standalone school buying in local authority support, Mike said. He gave the example of Bishop Hogarth schools’ debating societies, where students don’t just compete with their classmates, but against other schools across the CMAT.

“There's nothing better than developing that strength of character, that confidence and resilience to be able to argue your point with somebody, it can be life-changing.

“And we can do that with sport, music, and for pupil premium children, opportunities they wouldn't have had otherwise.”

Similarly, he is also passionate about the continuity of curriculum possible in a CMAT system. He said different primary schools teaching languages like French, Spanish or German would ultimately feed into a secondary where pupils then start from scratch with a new curriculum.

“You start with four-year-olds and teach the same language curriculum right through to age 11, they join secondary school and it just carries on.

“Having continuity of curriculum, for geography, history, for science and maths, where it flows through, that’s just common sense, with potentially stunning outcomes.”

A bright future

It’s not just through Formatio that Mike has made connections with Catholic universities, but also around the world.

Ten undergraduates from a Catholic university in Australia have recently been teaching in Bishop Hogarth schools as part of a work placement scheme.

He said: “In future some of them can say ‘you know what, we want to come back and teach in your schools’, all of them are Catholic, and suddenly we've got a new pipeline. Some of them want to be RE teachers , therefore coming through and feeding into our system.”

Ultimately, with nearly half of Catholic schools now academies, Mike sees the CMAT system as a permanent fixture in the education sector, and one having a future bright with potential.

“There are exciting times to come, I am confident it will protect Catholic education, where will it lead us? That depends on if we are brave enough to take the chances when the opportunities arise.”

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