Report to Stakeholders: December 2019

Chief Executive Officer's introduction

Welcome to our report to stakeholders, which gives a summary of developments in RLT over the past 12 to 18 months. We hope you find this an interesting overview of how we work as a central team and a partnership of schools seeking to provide the best quality of education possible for our children and young people.

Paul James

About River Learning Trust

RLT is a multi-academy trust that is committed to excellence and collaborative working. Currently we are: six secondary schools; sixteen primary schools; and a SCITT provider (school-centred initial teacher training) within Oxfordshire and Swindon.

We have grown from two schools in 2013 to twenty two at the end of 2019 with both sponsored schools, which are those needing significant support at the time of joining, and convertor schools. Four of our schools are Church of England schools.

We believe in the value of our schools being geographically close enough to collaborate and we value diversity, as our schools serve different communities.

A brief history of the Trust can be found on the About page.

Our Schools


The Cherwell School
Wheatley Park
Chipping Norton
The Marlborough CofE
The Swan School


Tower Hill
New Marston
Edith Moorhouse
Garsington CofE
Horspath CofE
Madley Brook
Witney Community School
Middle Barton
Beckley CofE
Rose Hill
Seven Fields

What’s important to us?

We recognise that education has the power to change lives, communities and society for the better and that we can achieve more for our pupils, trainees, staff and communities by working together rather than alone; we are determined that the Trust will be successful in its vision.

The principles of the River Learning Trust are:

Commitment to Excellence

Striving for the best educational experience through continuous improvement

Everyone Learning

Creating and taking opportunities that enhance lives through evidence-based practice supporting adult and pupil learning

Respectful Relationship

Acting with care, integrity and fairness in all we do

Our vision for pupils and staff to thrive in schools that demonstrate:

  • all-round education, academic success, lifelong learning and strength of character;

  • sustainable continuous improvement with no school standing still;

  • all schools being good or outstanding, or improving rapidly;

  • collaboration that is raising standards and reducing workload for colleagues.

Within this vision:

  • Each school has its own unique character and ethos;

  • The relationships within the Trust ensure genuine and impactful joint accountability – the experience and outcomes for all of the pupils in all of the schools matter to everyone.

How do we work?

The Central Team

All of our schools work with our Central Team which provides School Improvement, Financial, Operational, Health and Safety, Human Resources and Governance support.

School Improvement

Since RLT was formed, we have focussed on supporting schools to achieve their priorities for their pupils and staff. We started with a small team of experienced school leaders (the Chief Executive and part-time ‘Support and Challenge Partners’) working alongside Headteachers and other school leaders. This work included peer reviews where senior colleagues review particular aspects of another school’s performance and provide feedback, as well as collaborative activities such as moderating standards of pupil work between schools. 

Over the past eighteen months we have been able to grow the capacity for school improvement

Over the past eighteen months we have been able to grow the capacity for school improvement support by increasing the number of colleagues in the Central Team by appointing two full-time Directors of Education, and additional Support and Challenge Partners. We have also appointed colleagues in schools to work a number of days each year across the Trust coordinating or leading particular areas which include curriculum subjects, safeguarding and staff wellbeing. These appointments support in sharing expertise across the Trust as well as providing career opportunities for colleagues.  

We are delighted that schools are benefitting from this support which is making a difference to both pupils and staff (see below).

Operations, Health and Safety, HR, Estates and Finance

The Central Team provide a number of support services to schools, which are funded, alongside the school improvement support by a central budget contribution made by each school. These services include support with: financial management and compliance; budget modelling, preparation and monitoring; financial advice, procurement and efficiency; payroll; HR Services; support for staff recruitment, communications and marketing; health and safety; insurance; risk management and compliance, premises and asset management. The schools also benefit from annual capital investment from the Trust’s RLT School Condition Allocation grant.

This team has also grown over the past 12-18 months with additional finance staff to manage the increasing complexity and reporting demands from Central Government and a dedicated Operations Assistant focussed on Health and Safety compliance.


The Board of Trustees is responsible for the strategic oversight, administration and management of the Trust and all its schools and entities to develop and achieve the Trust’s vision, and to ensure compliance with government and ESFA requirements, company law and charity law. You can read about our Trustees here.

Each School within the Trust has its own Local Governing Body (LGB). The core functions of each LGB are as follows: setting the school’s vision, ethos and strategic direction within the principles of the Trust; maintaining the effective operation and membership of the LGB; overseeing the educational performance of the school: overseeing the financial performance of the school; ensuring pupil wellbeing including safeguarding, school safety and security; appointment of the Headteacher and carrying out their annual performance appraisal. Our Constitution provides more details about our governance structures.

We highly value the work our Local Governing Bodies do

We highly value the work our LGBs do and we support them with, among other things, governor and clerk recruitment and training on a wide range of subjects. Over the last 18 months we have endeavoured to provide more opportunities for our LGBs to collaborate and exchange experience and knowledge as well as provide a wider range of training on topics such as SEND, Safeguarding, Finance, Health and Safety, Use of Data in schools.

RLT in numbers

Total number of pupils
in Primary Schools
in Secondary Schools
Primary Schools
Secondary Schools
Teachers currently in training

Hours of school improvement support to our schools in 2018-19

0 +

Hours of between school collaborative development and training with colleagues in 2018-19

0 +
0 +
Colleagues invovled

Hours of Leadership Training provided in 2018-19

0 +
0 +
Colleagues invovled

Promotions to senior position within and between RLT schools 2018-19

0 +

Review of September 2018 to November 2019

What are we proud of?

With twenty two schools we cannot recount the successes in all of our schools in this brief report and, in any case, each of our schools celebrates success within their local community. However we will draw attention to a small number of schools and the development of overall Trust-wide priorities to highlight some of our work.

Where we have seen the most significant improvements over the last year or so this has often involved cultural change alongside any improvements in headline measures. This may be in the behaviour of pupils, or the self-belief in pupils and colleagues as to just how much our children and young people can achieve. Kingsdown in Swindon – a school which joined RLT two years ago having been ‘Satisfactory/ Requires Improvement’ for many years – is certainly a school where transformation is taking place. Year 11 outcomes were the best for many years this summer, with a Progress 8 improvement of 0.5 compared to 2018 – roughly equivalent to half a grade improvement in every GCSE taken. This is fantastic news for the Year 11 students, and the school has worked hard on cultural change, behaviour, curriculum and teaching and learning. At Wheatley Park, who also had their best Year 11 results in years (a Progress 8 improvement of more than 0.4 compared to 2018), they have also really committed to improvements in behaviour and the classroom experience for pupils very much in line with their school values of ‘Everyone Learning’ and ‘Everyone Caring’. Alongside this at secondary level, The Cherwell school continues as Oxfordshire’s top performing state school at GCSE.

In our primary schools, particularly those which joined us as sponsored schools in Special Measures, we’ve continued to see some great improvements: New Marston achieved results above national for the second year in a row and Sandhills improved significantly to also be above national averages. Overall, our four sponsored Primary schools which have been with us for one year or more have shown a 20% improvement in the number of pupils gaining the expected standards in reading, writing and maths over the past three years and are in line with national averages. 

We have had two recent successful Ofsted inspections at New Marston Primary School, previously a school in Special Measures, and Edith Moorhouse Primary School, which joined us as a Requires Improvement school, with both schools having now been judged as ‘Good’.

We also know that our pupils get a good start to their school life; children reaching a ‘good level of development’ at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage is above national averages. Schools have specific support on the Early Years through the work of our Early Years Support and Challenge Partner.

Another success across the primary schools in the Trust has been the improvement in the quality of writing

Another success across the primary schools in the Trust has been the improvement in the quality of writing with, overall, a near 20% increase in the number of pupils reaching the expected standard at the end of Year 6, and above the national average, when considering all of our Year 6 pupils in schools which have been with us for one or more years. This has been a great example as to how researching the most effective approaches in teaching and learning and collaborating between schools has led to significant improvements.

We are also delighted that four years after approval, The Swan School – the first new secondary school in Oxford for many years – opened its doors to 120 pupils in September 2019. The school has one year in temporary buildings and then moves to a beautiful purpose-built site in 2020.

Our School Centred Initial Teacher Training Provider (SCITT), Oxfordshire Teacher Training, as part of the Oxfordshire Teaching Schools Alliance (OTSA), supports the training of teachers across Oxfordshire and schools within RLT are able to engage closely with its work. This supports teacher training and recruitment, and professional learning and career development opportunities for colleagues who are working with trainees. Against a national back-drop where teacher recruitment is a challenge it is fantastic to see the SCITT, having been awarded an Outstanding judgement by Ofsted, go from strength to strength. Recruitment for 2019-20 has increased to 114, with two hubs operating in Banbury and Henley as well as the central base in Oxford, allowing the SCITT to support the whole of the Oxfordshire schools system with over 90% of the 79 associate teachers (trainees) in the 2018-19 cohort now employed in Oxfordshire state schools.

The capital investment we have been able to make in our schools is also significant. Rose Hill Primary school has benefited from a grant enabling £1.3m of repairs as reported in the Oxford Mail and by the BBC. Another £1.7m of expenditure is committed across our other schools, with refurbishment of older classroom blocks, new roofs and new toilets being the most common areas of improvement. 

What have we learned?

As a learning organisation we always seek to learn from what has gone well and from those areas which could have gone better. Like many Multi-Academy Trusts we seek to find a balance between things which are standardised between schools (such as HR policies), things which are aligned (such as core values and principles of teaching, learning, assessment and the curriculum) and where schools have autonomy (such as staffing, school uniform, the pattern of the school day, and school policies). We greatly value the importance of colleague schools having professional agency and being trusted to do a great job. We also know that where things aren’t going as well as they could, children and young people generally ‘only get one go’ in school and as such there are times when we can provide clarity with greater urgency about ‘what works’ and about how schools can implement change effectively. We have also continued to see the impact of great leadership in our schools, and where colleagues have paid careful attention to the leading of cultural change, alongside any policy and procedural changes, there have been the biggest and most likely sustainable improvements.

What next?

After significant growth between 2016 and 2018 the Trust is undergoing a period of consolidation while still allowing some additional schools to join where it will be of benefit to the schools concerned as well as to the Trust as a whole. Charlbury Primary School (Oxfordshire) and Seven Fields Primary School (Swindon) both joined on 1st December 2019 and we are working to support both Gosford Hill secondary school and The Oxford Academy.

As we have grown, we have been able to increase the support we offer to schools and we will continue to build capacity to ensure that schools benefit from the provision we offer.

From what we have learnt we are investing in more subject level support for schools as well as deepening our work with school leaders. We are very excited to be working with the University of Oxford’s Said Business School who are delivering team coaching to all of our school’s Senior Leadership Teams in the year ahead.

How can you support?

We are very grateful to the parents, carers and other stakeholders who support their schools, and therefore the Trust, in a whole host of ways. One area that can often be a challenge, especially for smaller schools, is the recruitment of school Governors. Governors play a vital strategic role in our schools and our Local Governing Bodies are always looking for future members with expertise in such areas as strategic management, the education sector, finance, safeguarding, HR, health and safety and premises. If you feel you might have suitable expertise and skills and would like to explore becoming a governor please, do contact us via the email address below.


The River Learning Trust, which is an exempt charity and a company limited by guarantee, is registered in England and Wales with a registered company number 7966500.