What it’s REALLY like to become part of a Multi-Academy Trust

What it’s REALLY like to become part of a Multi-Academy Trust

Plymouth High School for Girls; how it started, and how it’s going. The Principal of PHSHG, Simon Underdown gives the lowdown on why he chose to join our Trust.

Hi Simon, so why did you start thinking about becoming part of a MAT?

I wanted to take some decisive action to be sure that we secured the future of our school.  Schools thrive when people are focused on providing the absolute best learning environment and we do this with; financial security, astute site and amenity management and high-quality professional learning and collaboration.  I was convinced that joining the right MAT would help us to deliver on these goals.


What were you hoping to gain by becoming part of a MAT?

To ENABLE colleagues to work in professional collaborative teams that share a common purpose.

To REMOVE barriers to progress and allow people to concentrate on their core role without distractions.

To PROVIDE a vehicle for all our people to engage in a researched based improvement agenda.

To ENHANCE the quality of provision for all learners at Plymouth High.

To CHALLENGE and support us to become truly outstanding.

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Talk us through your due diligence process – why did you decide that TSAT was right for you?

We wanted to consider Trusts that already had similar schools to ours and one that was high performing.  We also wanted to join a Trust that put learning at the centre of all it does and one that had a culture of planned and sustained investment in schools.

READ MORE: How The Portsmouth Academy became a recognised Thinking School

 TSAT already had two Grammar schools, was founded by a Girls Grammar, is one of the highest performing Trusts in the country and is the only Trust to base its entire approach on the Thinking Schools approach.  TSAT also had the backing and approval of the RSC and could evidence impactful investment strategies.  With all these things in place, we felt confident in exploring the possibility of starting talks with TSAT.


Once you had decided on TSAT how did the relationship between your school and our Trust develop?

ICT support – Even before officially joining the Trust, the support for our ICT system was outstanding.  The Trust invested heavily in essential new hardware and on-site expertise.  The improvement to our network reliability and effectiveness was transformational and the development kept on coming.  Staff now have an increased confidence in our system both in terms of its functionality and the technical backup.  Since joining the Trust, we have an additional permanent colleague in our onsite IT team whose recruitment and induction was managed entirely by Trust IT.

Site support – Part of the due diligence process uncovered site issues and concerns unknown to us at the time.  All remedial work is planned and carried out by the Trust without taking up SLT time.  Being released from dealing with day-to-day site issues has been fantastic for SLT.  Site management has been outstanding, particularly with our newly appointed site manager.


Since you have started working within our Trust what have been the most significant benefits you would identify for you, your students, and your staff?

Me: Removing issues unrelated to T&L that were taking my time. COVID support.  HT collaboration. Support on our improvement agenda. Feeling excited about what we can achieve as part of the Trust.

Students: Student leadership opportunities. Assurance that we have a robust plan for year 11 and 13 in 2021. Potential for much improved facilities.

Staff: Working in collaborative teams. Exam board alignment. Knowledge that conditions improvement is happening and will be ongoing.


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Earth Alliance Team: Amy Higgins and Lara Brisden


Now that you have joined our Trust what are your reflections on the difference between being part of TSAT compared to an LA school?

It is completely different.  I feel supported by a team of people dedicated to helping me make Plymouth High the best it can be.  By a team that removes obstacles and barriers and has a ‘can do’ attitude.  I feel relaxed about what I am doing because I am fully supported.  The funding model is exceptional and will enable us to make sweeping improvements across the school, for all our young people and staff to enjoy.  We have secured a strong future for our school.


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What is your vision for the future of PHSG and how do you think being part of our Trust will help you achieve this vision?

To be the best secondary school in the City for academic progress, student happiness and extra-curricular provision.  To enable staff to grow professionally and for them to stay focused on their core role without any distractions. The Trust removes barriers so that our teachers can focus on their students and our support staff can focus on their core role.  The Trust invests time and money to help its people to be their best selves. There are no downsides.

All students at PHSG have a voice, here are a few sharing their thoughts on joining a Multi Academy Trust and what it’s meant for their education.


The Head Student Team said: “As student leaders at Plymouth High, joining the Thinking Schools Academy Trust has opened extremely exciting possibilities for us. The chance to work with schools and students outside of our area fills us with eagerness at the prospect of being able to have an impact beyond our school, making a real positive difference.

We hope that this will not only be able to help improve the student experience at Plymouth High and will also help to project our voices to a wider audience, suggesting things that we enjoy at our school. From our meetings with Mr Underdown, we also understand that joining the Trust will accommodate a better funding model and introduce a more efficient IT system that will further enhance the positive experience of students, contributing to better learning outcomes.

We cannot wait to see all the great things that being part of the Trust will bring, and we look forward to getting involved with other student leaders across the Trust to establish concrete relationships.”



The Earth Alliance Team said: “Joining the Trust has opened up many possibilities for the Earth Alliance Team as it will help our message to reach a much wider audience and let us have a greater student leadership role in influencing others and affecting change on a wider scale to benefit our environment and community. Joining the Trust has also opened us up to new resources which we have not had the opportunity to use before.

Being part of TSAT will allow us to engage with more people about a subject that is so important to us and the students at Plymouth High. This prospect is rewarding for us it also means that our actions have a much broader reach and will affect positive change around the country. The conference that we are hoping to host is just one example of this.”