The Vision Thing – Simon O’Keefe

Posted: November 14, 2016 Filed under:

One of the aims of this website is to provide a forum for sharing of ideas and thinking from people both in the education profession and those in other sectors. Contributions are very welcome and on practically any subject so long as there is some link to issues of interest to leaders and managers at levels across the public sector.

The People Management Business will make a donation to our chosen charity, Young Roots for every article we publish here.

And we are very appreciative to Simon O’Keefe, CEO at the Stour Academy for our very first article on the big, strategic issue of organisational vision and how this academy communicates the vison to all stakeholders.

We hope this triggers some thinking and further ideas for you and please do respond with any comments or observations and these will be added as they are received.

So, please send any articles or comments to


This Vision Thing

Eighteen months ago I was fortunate enough to attend a DfE pilot residential course for CEOs, run by Future Leaders. The course, spread over a week and some weekends, included many guest speakers, not only from education but also from business plus a work placement with the opportunity to work alongside another CEO. For me, it was The Landmark Hotel in Central London, one of the top hotels in the world. I’m not complaining!

The thinking behind providing high quality training specifically for CEOs of growing multi academy trusts is a sound one. I don’t recall a vast amount of support when I first became a headteacher over twelve years ago and absolutely nothing on becoming an Executive Headteacher of two schools to my current role of CEO of seven. Perhaps it’s a sign of how quickly the landscape has changed in recent years. Incidentally, the same can be said governing bodies that evolve into Boards of Directors.

So, I arrived for the first day of training. A relatively small group, around thirty in number, with the majority from secondary schools and from all areas of the country. The usual introductions, swapping tables, more introductions, etc., etc. A more detailed agenda for the day was then placed on the screen. My heart sank. “Vision and Aims.” Oh, not that old chestnut was my immediate thought. Every child reaching their maximum potential, or phrases meaning the same thing. Surely isn’t that what we all want. Within seconds my excitement and anticipation for the course dissipated and I dismissed the item as a waste of time, a load of soundbites, meaningless tosh and wondered how on earth we would spend the next two or three hours on the subject.

It was a full year on before I came to realise just how wrong I was to dismiss “Vision and Aims.”  I now recognise the huge significance of having a clear vision for our MAT. After all, isn’t the very reason why we have become a multi-academy trust based on our values and one that needs to be shared with all stakeholders.

Many of us struggle to identify our vision. Vision can be an abstract concept to grasp. In my opinion it’s about our core values and purpose and how they relate not just to our pupils, but to our workforce and all other stakeholders.

So why is having a vision so important for MATS? Nothing in my experience changes so often or more rapidly than in education. Whoever is appointed as Secretary of State for Education usually has their eye on the top job. Didn’t Nicky Morgan seriously consider putting herself forward in the recent Conservative leadership contest before finally being sacked by Theresa May? And if you’ve got your eye on the top job, letting policies bed-in and having a ‘period of stability’ is not really an option.

Change for the right reasons is good. I often describe our Trust as a family of ‘moving’ schools, constantly reviewing and evaluating what we do to achieve our vision. It’s our vision that doesn’t change.

We know we are facing a recruitment crisis. Even if we weren’t we would want our staff to stay and be as effective as they can. One of the best ways to do this is to give them something to be proud of. Our vision provides the emotional connection that inspires us all and will attract staff from outside who want to buy into our vision. It provides everyone with an understanding of our purpose and ethics, which lays down the foundation for the culture of our Trust.

So our vision isn’t simply a few sentences at the start of a prospectus and on the front page of a website. We constantly tell people our vision, remind ourselves on Development Days, at presentations, it’s one of the first things we present to future employees at interviews. If you don’t have a clear vision for your Trust, whether one school or maybe three, time to get something down that reflects your purpose.


Simon O’Keefe, CEO

The Stour Academy Trust


Questions for thought

  1. Does your school or organisation have a clear vision statement?
  1. How is this communicated to your staff, children, parents, governors and other stakeholders?
  1. How do follow this through to ensure your policies and practices are consistent with your vision statement?
  1. Have you reviewed your vision statement recently? If you need to do this then what process should you use, who should be involved?

And of course, if you need some assistance to address any of the above questions then please do get in touch.

Latest Articles
Sign up to our newsletter

  • Keep up to date with our articles by subscribing to our newsletter.