Dominic Broad, director of education at Thrive Education Partnership multi-academy trust, talks to us about the importance of great mentors and leading with values – plus interviewing inspirational individuals including Wim Hof!
Please can you tell us about your journey to becoming the director of education at Thrive Education Partnership?
I initially pursued a career in professional football, but when that didn't materialise, I shifted to education. After obtaining a degree in sports development and coaching, I worked at Cardiff City Academy while studying. Motivated by my passion for teaching and having an impact on students, especially those with backgrounds like mine, I became a teacher. Within 2 years, I was promoted to assistant head in a school that had recently struggled with an Estyn inspection.
The school significantly improved, gaining national recognition. This caught the attention of the Welsh Government, leading to my inclusion in a fast-track leadership scheme. Through this programme, I collaborated with influential headteachers and was recruited to join another school as an assistant head.
Despite the challenge of an imminent inspection, I accepted the offer for the mentorship opportunity and valuable experience. Within a year, I became deputy head, taking on various roles and leading initiatives like the Apple Regional Training Programme and Lego Education rollout in Wales. I also established networks, implemented education software, and set up the Sony Learning Centre. During this period, we organised a STEM trip to Florida for year 6 children from a deprived area, a memorable culmination of my responsibilities.
In 2016, during my second or third year as deputy head, I was chosen as a pioneer teacher, representing my school in the development of a new Welsh national curriculum, The Curriculum for Wales. This led to a secondment as the associate adviser on curriculum reform for Curriculum for Wales, overseeing curriculum development and collaborating with stakeholders.
In 2016, during my second or third year as deputy head, I was chosen as a pioneer teacher, representing my school in the development of a new Welsh national curriculum, The Curriculum for Wales
Upon conclusion, I was asked to step up and became the national strategic lead for curriculum reform, working with influential figures to lead the development and rollout of the national curriculum.
Despite an offer for an extension as strategic lead of curriculum reform, I pursued my goal of becoming a headteacher, exploring opportunities in England and eventually taking on a school in special measures. Despite challenges, we made significant progress, which led to speaking engagements and job opportunities, including my current role as director of education within a multi-academy trust in the Midlands.
I became the director of education in 2021; this transition aligned with the level of impact I sought and the opportunity to work with a like-minded group aiming to make a significant impact in education.
How would you describe Thrive Education Partnership?
As mentioned earlier, we started with 2 schools, and a third school was in the process of opening through a free school bid in which I was involved. Currently, we are on track to have 7 schools, likely reaching this number by the time this interview is released, including several satellite locations. However, our focus is not on numerical growth but on doing what we believe is right, bringing on board individuals who share similar values and purposes.
Operating across the Midlands, our emphasis is on supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). This marked a new field for me, having previously worked with mainstream primaries and secondaries. It has been a rewarding experience to witness the meaningful work being done by educators in this sector and to learn about the diverse nuances that come with the range of SEND. The dedication of the staff across the trust is truly commendable, and it has been enlightening to work in an area I was not overly familiar with.
Can you share some of the key initiatives and strategies your trust has implemented to support the academic success and overall wellbeing of pupils?
We prioritise various aspects, with a strong focus on enhancing the quality of teaching and learning. Establishing a self-improving system has been a key initiative, allowing us to consistently elevate teaching and learning standards across the trust. A central emphasis is placed on becoming research-informed across all areas of practice, spanning communication, academic development, teaching and learning, and our approach to SEND. This ensures our methods remain current and effective.
To address challenges arising post-pandemic, we've formed a trauma and therapeutic team, strategically tackling difficulties prevalent in most schools.
To address challenges arising post-pandemic, we've formed a trauma and therapeutic team
Another key focus is the wellbeing of our staff, alongside retention, and talent identification within the trust. We actively seek individuals who display the willingness and capability to contribute at a strategic level, involving them in meaningful projects.
It's an exciting time to be part of these initiatives, and contributing to their development has been a particularly rewarding aspect of my involvement.
As a leader, how do you foster a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement across the trust?
I had the privilege of collaborating with the OECD and Professor Mark Hadfield whilst they established the self-improving system in Wales. Translating this into our trust, we've crafted a streamlined version. Our approach revolves around clearly defined values, strategic priorities, and a shared understanding at a fundamental level. This serves as the foundation for our self-improving system.
Central to this system is a robust self-evaluation framework, developed and rolled out by our team. We engage with headteachers and senior leaders in schools, identifying areas of strength and improvement, and then map these observations across the entire trust. To ensure objectivity and quality assurance, external agencies verify our assessments, adding an important layer of triangulation.
Central to this system is a robust self-evaluation framework, developed and rolled out by our team
Following this verification process, we facilitate collaboration among schools, creating partnerships based on shared strengths and areas for improvement. Our fortnightly meetings provide a platform for open discussions about strengths and weaknesses.
In the first 2 years, the focus was on fostering collaboration and openness. Now, as part of the self-improving system, we are introducing external expertise. This involves procuring external advice and support to train us in specific areas, ensuring that we move beyond maintaining the current level of provision to systemic improvement. The goal is not just to circulate the same quality within the system but to elevate the overall quality systematically.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced during your time as director of education, and how have you worked to overcome them?
Transitioning from a headteacher role, where responsibilities included overseeing school finances, HR, staff performance and various other aspects, to a broader leadership role overseeing multiple projects has presented a new challenge for me. Fortunately, I've developed a set of organisational strategies over the years that has proven invaluable in managing multiple projects at a strategic level.
One key adjustment has been shifting away from day-to-day operations. While this can be different, because the immediate impact isn't always visible, it allows me to focus on supporting others to excel in their respective areas and cultivate a strategic mindset. Given my appreciation for social connections, the reduced time with people and students can be challenging. However, it affords me the opportunity to guide and empower others to thrive in their roles.
Balancing a strategic view with a keen awareness of ongoing school activities poses a significant challenge. Nonetheless, being attuned to what's happening in schools enables me to provide timely support, knowing when to push, hold back, offer assistance, or allow autonomy. Juggling these dual responsibilities has been fascinating, and I feel my training under various mentors has prepared me well for this dynamic role.
How do you see the role of trusts, and your trust in particular, evolving in the coming years?
Looking ahead, supporting the role of headteachers with finances, HR, and central processes may not be enough. It will become fundamentally important to provide leadership support, focusing on school improvement, and monitoring their overall wellbeing.
The surge in new headteachers and leaders during the post-pandemic period suggests a need for a new approach to induction for new leaders. It's crucial to surround them with individuals who understand and empathise with their challenges, bringing a successful track record in similar roles. This is particularly important given the challenging nature of leadership.
Our responsibility is to ensure that these emerging leaders are supported by the right people, encouraging them to be their best and empowering them to achieve their full potential within the framework of our multi-academy trust.
What advice would you give to other trust leaders, when it comes to effectively managing and empowering your staff?
Ensuring effective leadership within a trust involves several key strategies. Firstly, being open to feedback and actively seeking advice from schools is crucial. Recognising that leaders may only be aware of a fraction of what's happening across the trust, it's essential to tap into the knowledge of staff who are fully aware of the challenges and opportunities. This helps in understanding frustrations, needs, and the overall goals of the schools.
Establishing a robust support network of mentors for leaders is another vital element. This provides leaders with guidance and assistance, fostering their growth and development.
Establishing a robust support network of mentors for leaders is another vital element
Additionally, it's important to set manageable targets for leaders, not just providing goals but actively assisting them in achieving those targets. Rather than merely holding leaders accountable for results, the focus should be on supportive collaboration to ensure successful outcomes. As a trust, our duty is to support individuals in reaching their targets, moving beyond mere measurement to actively contribute to their success.
As you mentioned, you've been lucky enough to have some great mentors in your time. In your role, you are now a mentor too. So what would you say good leadership looks like to you?
That's a good question. Effective leadership, to me, boils down to 4 key components.
Firstly, being organised is paramount. Deliberate organisation facilitates effective delegation, acknowledging that no one can do everything alone. In education leadership, many of us ascend through the ranks based on our teaching prowess, but we eventually reach a point where delegation becomes essential. Identifying the strengths of those around us and delegating tasks accordingly is crucial.
Secondly, empathy plays a pivotal role. It's not about being sympathetic, but understanding and supporting the team through their challenges. Leaders must navigate difficulties with their team, providing the necessary support during moments of change or other challenges.
The third component is effective communication. It's vital to communicate with kindness and understanding, but also with directness. Honest and discreet communication allows for constructive feedback, focusing on improvement. Follow-up is equally important, ensuring that there is a tangible path forward for the individual.
Finally, being an umbrella for the team is essential. Leaders need to shield their teams from bureaucracy, frustration, and external pressures, including the political landscape. By doing so, leaders enable their schools to concentrate on the core mission: providing students with the best possible education experience. As a parent of 3 children myself, I understand the fleeting time students spend in school, underlining the importance of empowering leaders and teachers to create a meaningful and exceptional experience for every child.
Looking ahead, what are some of your long-term goals and aspirations for the trust, and how do you plan to achieve them?
Our strategic targets are underpinned by our core identity as a values-based trust. Fundamentally, our goal is to ensure that every action we take has the most positive impact on our students and staff. This overarching aim guides everything we do, placing staff and students at the centre of our initiatives.
Our goal is to ensure that every action we take has the most positive impact on our students and staff
Another crucial aspect is our commitment to attracting individuals who are morally aligned with our values. Recognising that not everyone shares the same values, we actively seek out those who resonate with our clear purpose as a group. This deliberate effort has proven to be highly beneficial, yielding substantial returns for our trust. We've not only gained valuable insights and shared impactful practices but have also become part of an extensive network of thought leaders and have had several pieces of work published across the trust.
Remarkably, we're now drawing interest from headteachers of schools with solid reputations – some even outstanding. They are choosing to voluntarily join us, collaborate with us, or seek our school improvement support. The key, therefore, lies in identifying and engaging with individuals who share our values, fostering a collective commitment to our overarching mission.
What are some of the activities you enjoy doing outside of your time working in the trust?
I continued to play semi-professional football for as long as I could, although, currently, I'm dealing with an injury – a consequence of ageing! Despite that, maintaining physical fitness remains a priority for me and, alongside this, I make a conscious effort to prioritise time with my children, making sure that I am as present in their lives as possible.
Beyond my day job, I've had the privilege of serving as a government adviser on various steering groups. Currently, I sit on a digital strategy roundtable, collaborating with leading experts in the digital landscape.
Additionally, I host the Olympic Mindset Podcast, where I interview a diverse range of individuals, including Olympic gold medalists, Premier League winners, and influential figures like the founder of Reebok. Upcoming episodes feature guests such as Wim Hof, Ben Hunt-Davis (co-author of Will it Make the Boat Go Faster?), and Professor Steve Peters (author of The Chimp Paradox). The podcast is growing rapidly and has reached the top 150 in 4 continents.
I host the Olympic Mindset Podcast, where I interview a diverse range of individuals
The podcast's essence lies in extracting life lessons on leadership, success, and the intricate balance of managing family and social life. As someone who values mentorship and learning from others' experiences, hosting this podcast and sharing insights with headteachers for free during my holidays is a rewarding endeavour.
Finally, will you be doing the Wim Hof interview from an ice bath?!
Well, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m currently injured – so probably, yes!
If you’d like to find out more about Thrive Education Partnership, visit the trust’s website.
To find out how The Key can support your trust's current priorities and long-term goals, contact our team.
Please note that mention of any commercial providers, products or resources in this post should not be considered an endorsement by The Key.