Chris Butler, headteacher at Girton Glebe Primary School, tells us what it's like to run a primary school within the Eastern Learning Alliance.

In the autumn term of 2022 ELA were delighted to receive a glowing Ofsted report for Girton Glebe Primary School which highlighted the excellent provision they offer children in their local community.

We were also pleased to have the work of the central Trust team celebrated as part of the inspector feedback, both in the report and on the day itself. We know that developing a close working relationship between heads of school and the Trust executive team is the key to the rapid school improvement sustained by ELA in all our settings. We sat down with Chris Butler, headteacher at Girton Glebe, to find out more about being a primary headteacher with ELA.

I am trusted as an expert to make decisions autonomously, but also really well supported - it’s a great balance.

The Trust’s strength starts and ends with clear and consistent leadership, as far as Chris is concerned.

His view is that ELA’s approach is all about striking a balance between headteacher autonomy and consistent, accessible support. “My weekly extended line management meetings with the CEO are invaluable. They take place in person, and are an opportunity to discuss any issues that have arisen that week candidly and with a solutions-focussed approach to ensuring the school continues to run smoothly. I am trusted as an expert to make decisions autonomously, but also really well supported – it’s a great balance. Our focus is always on maximising the opportunities and provision for children at Girton Glebe, while maintaining a positive, highly skilled and enthusiastic staff body.”

Support doesn’t stop there for Chris – he’s keen to highlight that the central Trust team, including executive leaders, are always available to chat through any issues as they arise.

“We really do work as a family of schools. The central Trust team are always popping in: the staff know them and are able to ask them for help with various areas throughout the week. A visible leadership presence is so crucial to the ELA vision, and it’s great that our staff see that input in a tangible way week to week.”

there has been real improvement in staff confidence and subject knowledge thanks to the high quality CPD on offer.

Chris was particularly keen to highlight the impact the wider ELA team have had on curriculum design and delivery for children at Girton Glebe. Specialist-led MFL, music and computing provision has become a mainstay on the timetable, and curriculum leads can draw on a wide network of subject expertise and resource across the Trust.

Primary and secondary leads are able to work alongside each other with a view to a smooth transition between key stages, and Trust leadership support has been used to allow additional PPA time for Girton Glebe’s subject leads. Trust-wide subject based CPD is available to all staff regardless of centre or phase. This means that Girton Glebe’s science lead, as an example, can access excellent science specific CPD via ELA Horizons: the internal staff website, and is part of a Trust-wide subject network of science teachers. 

Chris explains the impact of this by telling us:

“there has been real improvement in staff confidence and subject knowledge thanks to the high quality CPD on offer; this was picked up on in our Ofsted inspection. Primary teachers are amazing: they are polymaths by necessity, and have to juggle subject knowledge development across such a range of areas. To be offered space and time to develop one area of subject knowledge alongside specialists in that field of teaching is a real privilege – and seeing our staff pass this new knowledge on to their colleagues is an added bonus. You can see this paying dividends in the classroom: children love learning from confident teachers with great knowledge bases.” 

In addition to subject specialism, teachers and leaders at Girton Glebe have benefitted from regular input from Trust leads for SEND as well as PSHE. “Being able to draw on extensive experience that exists in specialist areas such as SEND has really helped us to ensure that the Girton Glebe offer is truly inclusive. We’re really proud of the work we do here and to have it bolstered by experienced Trust colleagues is so reassuring.”

ELA runs itself as a family of schools who learn from and support one another to achieve excellence.

Chris’ day to day focus is entirely centred on child welfare and ensuring high quality teaching and learning.

“Trust systems mean that things like estates and site, cleaning, IT and finance are all centralised. Cleaning rotas; repair work and maintenance (routine and emergency!); payroll issues; health and safety audits and solutions; IT system improvements… are of these are dealt with at Trust level.

Clearly I still have lots of input with all these things, but my day to day is freed up to focus on the things that really matter to me: making sure all our children are safe and happy, and providing them with an exceptional education. Even with regards to safeguarding which is such a key part of my day to day, ELA do everything they can to support heads of school and DSLs: we benefit from weekly external supervisions, robust Trust policies, and a strong extended network of safeguarding leads to call on for advice and support.”

Chris left us with a thought on ELA as an employer:

“ELA runs itself as a family of schools who learn from and support one another to achieve excellence and like I said before that family element is really key.

Their people-centred approach is apparent to all our staff, and we know that they do all they can to attract the best teachers, and then crucially to retain them. Policies across all schools are focussed on reducing workload and designing systems efficiently. Things like ELA Horizons, the staff benefits package which includes health care plans and GP access, high street discounts, staff perks and experience days all add up to make our staff feel that ELA really value them – and that’s what it’s all about really.”

Huge thanks to Chris for talking us through his experience as an ELA headteacher.

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