Rebecca Cramer and Ed Vainker, co-founders of Reach Academy Feltham and the Reach Fellowship
Rebecca Cramer and Ed Vainker
Co-founders of Reach Academy Feltham and the Reach Fellowship

The Reach Fellowship: Paying it forward from Feltham

Reach Academy Feltham co-founders Ed and Rebecca have set up the Reach Fellowship: sharing their learnings and helping others set up schools across the UK.

Eight years ago, we signed our funding agreement and issued contracts to the founding teachers at Reach Academy Feltham. The night before the school opened, wracked with nerves, we realised we’d forgotten to purchase bins for the campus. A race to Ikea ensued, resulting in a minor car crash on the North Circular. We see echoes of this night in the current coronavirus climate when starting a school: the constant iterations, the corralling of a community and the relentless exhilaration and exhaustion. 

We believe the Reach Fellowship is the next stage in our journey. It’s our way of giving back to the education system; sharing what we’ve learned and helping others to set up similar all-through schools in communities across the UK. It aligns with the mission of Teach First to build a fair education for all; the organisation that brought us into this work and has been a vital network and source of support.

The Reach Fellowship

The Reach Fellowship is grounded in approaches that we believe can set children up to live lives of choice and opportunity. These include:

  • a seamless cradle-to-career journey
  • commitment to excellence in teaching and curriculum design
  • focus on supporting children and families holistically
  • most importantly, a belief in the power of relationships to affect positive change

We came to these approaches from our work in London schools, examples of transformative schools (in the UK and abroad) and the evidence base about what works. We have seen these approaches have a real impact in our community, sending three times more children from our first GSCE cohort to University than is typical locally. 

Over the coming years through the Fellowship, we will:

  • develop a sharable ‘Reach Blueprint’ that sets out all aspects of the school and our cradle-to-career organisation
  • support groups around the country apply the Reach Blueprint in their community
  • establish a school leader Fellowship, giving prospective school leaders a year of training and support to prepare them to lead new or existing schools
  • foster a network of aligned schools that collaborate to refine a model that delivers lives of choice and opportunity around the country

Being rooted in the community is key

Just over a week after we opened Reach Academy Feltham in 2012, we were invited to submit a second free school application. Needless to say, we declined. We were exhausted, nervous things wouldn't work and felt like we had a mountain to climb to make our current school successful. 

As co-founders, we have come to the realisation that we want to be deeply rooted in the Feltham community. We have concluded that growing our Multi Academy Trust outside of that community would compromise that focus. However, we do have something to offer the system and communities serving the most vulnerable children. 

We plan to broaden our support of others, without compromising the work we are doing in Feltham. We have a great team in place, and we’ve secured strong outcomes. We are excited to unlock potential in others to do the same in their local area. 

Enduring and impactful leadership

It seems clear that no school can succeed without great leadership. This looks different by school and situation, but the best examples often have continuity and commitment, of the headteacher and those supporting them. 

Looking at new schools in the UK, the pattern is clear. Twelve years after opening, Max Haimendorf (2003) continues to lead King Solomon Academy to remarkable success. The same is true of other free schools - Luke Sparkes and Jenny Thompson continue to lead Dixons Trinity, as do Oli de Botton (2003) and Peter Hyman at School 21 and Katharine Birbalsingh at Michaela. 

Our Secondary Headteacher, Beck Owen (2009), was the first teacher we hired and three of our founding Trustees, co-founder Jon McGoh, Judith Tacon and Jen Baxter (2003) still play central roles in our governance. 

We believe that supporting entrepreneurial groups, building strong teams and embedding them in their communities is the best way to create a robust institution that can endure. There is much greater power in convening a group of people from, say, Middlesbrough, sharing a model and supporting them to build a transformative organisation, than in applying ourselves to open schools in communities we do not know well. 

Capacity, and thus opportunity, are not shared equally

But we do want to make a contribution to supporting children in other parts of the country. 

Last year we supported All Saints Academy Plymouth on its successful journey out of Special Measures. Alongside nearby Marine Academy, the school struggled to find a sponsor until Moira Marder and the Ted Wragg Trust agreed to bring their expertise to bear in a vulnerable community. 

Many communities around the country, like Plymouth, are not able to access resources and capacity that they need. The Fellowship will seek out these communities and work with groups to support them. 

Connect with us

We are seeking to connect with teachers and leaders across the country interested in exploring this model in their communities. We believe that the approaches we have taken in Feltham can be applied to support young people in other areas and look forward to exploring this further in the months to come.

To get involved, please visit our website.

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