Marish Academy Trust

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Marish Academy Trust is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Executive Headteacher
Gill Denham
Awe and wonder at Marish
Academy Trust
Established in June 2012, Marish Primary School was partnered
with sponsored academy Willow Primary just eight months
later to form Marish Academy Trust. Initially this came with
its challenges, but eight years on and the two entities have
developed a shared strategic vision, which has shaped an ethos
that requires all stakeholders to do whatever it takes to serve their
communities. Gill Denham, executive headteacher of both schools,
offers more detail on what makes them a unique place to learn.
“Strive for the Heights” is Marish Academy Trust’s motto. It encapsulates our
journey from “special measures” to the brink of “outstanding” in two large
primary schools serving a diverse community in Slough. Crucial to our ongoing
success story has been the development of one truly trust-wide team – a team that
sustains aspiration and resilience by building relationships and removing barriers to
learning for our 1,300 pupils, their families and our staff team.
Commitment to education
When the Covid-19 threat struck, we mobilised immediately and met a range of
needs. This is because Marish Academy Trust is more than just a school. Since March
2020, it has transformed into a haven that engenders hope and exceeds expectations.
Our local authority context has many challenges: oversubscribed schools;
inadequate social care provision; increased deprivation; overcrowded housing;
and higher-than-average proportions of refugees, immigrants, and children with
complex special educational needs and disabilities. Although the schools are two of
»Executive Headteacher: Gill
»Founded in2013
»Location:Slough, Berkshire
»Type of school: Two community
primary schools
»No. of students: 1286
Marish Academy
Highlighting best practice
the most successful in Berkshire, more
was still required if our communities
were to be well supported through life
in lockdown.
School closures did not stop the trust
team, but rather freed staff up to
live out our ethos like never before.
Teachers and caretakers became
minibus drivers and delivered food
parcels and collected children who
were vulnerable or had key-worker
parents. Turning one of our halls
into a stockroom, and assisted by
volunteers, senior leaders and catering
staff masterminded the stocking and
delivery of almost 400 food parcels
in the first four weeks of lockdown.
Facilities and administrative staff took
on the design and redecoration of
corridors in both schools. Governors,
the executive headteacher and those
few pupils who were in school turned
a classroom into a greenhouse and
created a flourishing garden outside.
Other staff working from home
posted lessons and timetables online,
and every week they communicated
with the families of each of our
1,300 pupils. Each day from March
2020 onwards, we provided care
and education to between 25 and
60 children in school, including
throughout the holidays. This provision
complemented that available online for
those staying at home. Relationships
have been strengthened and our
community nurtured. Lockdown
has proved a dynamic catalyst for
change, enabling Marish Academy
Trust to achieve its dream of reaching
into the homes and hearts of all
Team effort
Becoming more than a school is
not a one-person job. As executive
headteacher, I have set the direction
clearly, held my nerve and maintained
equilibrium. I packed food into crates
with governors, delivered food parcels
with a deputy and got my hands
dirty, literally, in the classroom and
This was a change, because I haven’t
needed to be so hands-on for a
while. Recently, my job has been to
set the parameters of the strategic
vision and delegate autonomy via
genuine distributed leadership to
others who decide the operational
steps to moveforward. Suddenly,
from cheering the team on from the
wings or giving them a hearty push
from behind, I found myself thrust
back into leading from the front. The
New skills in action
during Judo club, prior
to lockdown
Team building and healthy
competition between
staff at Empower to
Deliver training
Crucial to our
success story
has been the
development of
one truly trust-
wide team
challenge has been both exhilarating
and daunting. Without the support
and creativity of the senior team, we
would have foundered, but the strong
relationships and trust developed over
the last seven years have sustained
the team. Indeed, creative solutions
to problems have often come from
others. For example, I decided we
needed to feed children but had no
idea how to set about it practically;
that came from the deputyteam.
The impact of all this work during
lockdown meant that June 1 passed
largely unobserved. By then we had
been in school for ten weeks, and our
experience was that if you followed
the guidelines and used common
sense, it was safe. In mid-June there
were still very few children back at
school in England, and high numbers
of staff were still reluctant to return to
work. However, at Marish Academy
Trust, this is how we operated.
»We had over 200 children returning
trust-wide in year 6, year 1 and
EYFS every day from June 1, which
increased to 256 children trust-wide
in the week beginning June 8.
»We opened for year 5 on June 21,
and years 2, 3 and 4 returned before
the end of the summer term.
»Our schools are open to all children
in the relevant year groups, full-time
for their usual hours of entitlement,
as well as breakfast and after-school-
club provision.
»Although over a dozen staff
members have displayed symptoms
of the virus, over the 12-week period
all their tests have proved negative,
which means that the safety
precautions we are taking arerobust.
»From June 15, all staff who were not
shielding or are extremely vulnerable
reported they were available for
work. This amounted to 80 per cent
of the total staff team and meant
that we were able to cover the
smaller class or bubble sizes.
»Parents have reported via our online
questionnaire that they could not have
been better supported during this crisis.
»Social care, the SEND team at the
local authority and the virtual school
have all commended Marish Academy
Trust for going the extramile.
Today, just as every day before lockdown,
rather than becoming frustrated with
partner agencies, we meet needs
instead. Our trust now provides food,
clothing, transport, counselling,
language support andchildcare.
This is visionary leadership at its best.
The Marish Academy team builds
partnerships, trust and bridges into
our community. Covid-19 has only
strengthened those bridges and
enabled parents, staff and pupils to
cross them. Our vision and capacity for
sustained growth, regardless of the
circumstances we find ourselves in,
assures us that the best is yet to come.
Lockdown has
proved a
dynamic catalyst
for change,
enabling Marish
Academy Trust
to achieve its
dream of
reaching into
the homes and
hearts of all its
Lockdown turned
teachers into greengrocers
and delivery drivers and
our hall into a storehouse

This article was sponsored by Marish Academy Trust. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.