A News story by Ellena Schuster-Farrell 25 May 2018

Joanna Hall has had a fascinating career in education. Starting out as a dance teacher, she has since served as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI), worked in several leadership roles and was Ofsted’s Deputy Director for Schools.

We caught up with Joanna to find out more about her experiences in the education system and her new role as regional education director for E-ACT.

So Joanna, you started your career as a dance teacher.

Yes, I’m a trained dance practitioner. My first role was as a dance teacher at Stantonbury Campus in Milton Keynes. I then moved on to Colchester Sixth Form College, where I became head of dance. In both roles I developed the curriculum provision for GCSE, AS and A level dance courses, ran youth dance companies and led community-based arts projects.

Does that experience inform your work today?

I think it does. After Colchester Sixth Form College, I became head of initial teacher education (ITE) at the Royal Academy of Dance. Through our partnership of schools across London and the South East of England we developed a network of trainees, NQTS and mentors. This partnership ensured that the performing arts remained a key part of the curriculum, which is something that I am still passionate about as I begin my role at E-ACT.

What inspired you to become one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors?

I have experienced Ofsted inspections throughout my career. They have shone a light on what schools are doing well while highlighting what they need to improve. I could also see how the subject expertise and wider education knowledge of inspectors was shaping Ofsted’s work.

Hearing from passionate inspectors made me consider a career move, and I decided to use my knowledge of teacher education and teaching to develop new skills. I was keen to learn the craft of inspection and see different school settings through an inspector’s lens.

There’s a tradition of HMI and it’s interesting to look back at its history and impact. To be appointed by the Privy Council on behalf of Her Majesty was a real honour.

You were part of some important work at Ofsted. Tell us about that.

I became one of the senior HMI in London. I worked with the London regional director, overseeing inspection work in 11 London boroughs and working with schools graded as requires improvement or inadequate and in special measures.

During my last three years at Ofsted I worked for the former Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw and National Director Sean Harford as part of a central policy team. We worked together to develop and launch the new Common Inspection Framework (CIF) in September 2015. That was a big project, which led on to my role as deputy director for schools at Ofsted.

How did you hear about E-ACT?

The academisation policy agenda launched while I was a senior HMI. We were examining how Sir Michael wanted to hold MATs to account for their performance. By developing focused reviews, we were able to test the impact of the MAT in supporting academy improvement.

I was part of the team leading the training programme for HMI to carry out focused reviews when trusts like E-ACT were receiving letters from Ofsted about their performance.

Over the last few years, it has been great to see trusts tackling the key issues reported in those early letters. Sir David Carter’s recent tweet about E-ACT “turning a corner” was exciting: I knew I wanted to be part of the next stage of the trust’s journey.

E-ACT now has a much higher percentage of academies working at good or better, and there’s now greater capacity to drive sustainable improvement and work towards making a higher proportion of our academies outstanding.

What do you think makes an effective MAT?

Firstly, sharing strong, sustainable practice. We have a wealth of experience to develop a good, knowledge based curriculum, offer strong pedagogy and use the expertise within the trust to support the career development of all our staff.

You also need to develop your curriculum together so that it works for the young people in each academy. I’ll be working with our academy leadership teams to analyse the curriculum offer we have and think about how we develop successful pathways for the future for all of our students.

Strong governance is important. Trustees need to ask the difficult questions of our executive team, particularly about growth. If you’ve got a board asking, “have we got the capacity to take on new schools and sustain good or better education?”, then there’s increased rigour. That’s reassuring for parents: at the end of the day, our customers are our parents and children and we need them to have confidence in the trust.

What are your priorities?

I want to make sure that we don’t narrow the curriculum in our academies. We need to ensure that all of our young people have access to a rich curriculum, giving them choices when they reach Year 11 or at Post 16.

I’m also passionate about encouraging teachers to join our fantastic profession, stay in the profession and seek out opportunities to develop a hugely rewarding career. I am in no doubt about the challenges that this may bring but I am excited to lead on this with our headteachers.

As regional education director for the Midlands, Joanna will oversee nine E-ACT academies in the region. For further information, click here.