A News story by Ellena Schuster-Farrell 8 January 2018

Trustees play a vital role, volunteering their time and working together to make important decisions about E-ACT’s work.

In honour of Trustees’ Week in November, we caught up with Michael Wemms, Chair of the E-ACT Board of Trustees.  In the second part of his interview Michael reflects on his own school experience and tells us about his ambitions for the organisation.

In your opinion what is E-ACT now doing well?

I think we are improving the quality of teaching, spending more time and money on sourcing good quality teachers. The percentage of our budget that goes on teaching rather than admin has increased over the time that David and I have been looking at that side of things, and that’s very positive.

We’re also looking at the whole child in a way that wasn’t obvious when I first joined E-ACT. Children need more than just good exam results – they need exposure to the outside world, enrichment activities and they need their wellbeing looked after, and that’s something I feel we’re making progress with.

I’m particularly pleased with the mental health initiative that we’ve launched. There are many children across the trust needing help for all sorts of reasons. It’s hard for teachers to be experts, so the more information we can give them on what to look for and how to seek help for the child who needs it, the better. I think this initiative is going to be a major force in making sure that our children do better in life.

What challenges do you think E-ACT is facing?

E-ACT is an organisation that has moved forward considerably over the two years I have been involved. We’ve sorted out our basic operational methods, we are improving our teaching and improving the way in which pupils are looked after in the academies, we are getting better and better Ofsted reports and our exam results are improving.

The challenge is to keep moving forward. I have a strong belief that an organisation has to show that it is improving every day. You don’t often get massive jumps in performance, you get steady improvements and maintaining that is very important.

Funding is always an issue for public bodies; we have to be very careful with how we look after the money, making sure we spend it on the right things. That’s something we’ve always done and always will do, but it will always be a challenge.

How can we deal with those challenges?

Well, you combat challenges by working hard! We need to analyse what the problem is, constantly reviewing what’s gone well and building on it.

One of the good things is that E-ACT is now attracting high calibre people to join us, and having high calibre people, who are well motivated, is the answer to most problems.

What are your ambitions for E-ACT?

My ambitions are that we’ll arrive at a situation where every student loves coming to their E-ACT academy. They’ll leave the academy better prepared for the world than when they joined, with good exam results. I want the authorities to be pleased with E-ACT’s methods and the way in which we teach and develop people. I’d like a Good or better rating in every school, and that’s something that we are doing. We’ve moved on from 17% of academies at Good or better when David started, to over 70% now. We want to get those last few academies to a Good rating.

Casting your mind back how would you describe your own school experience?

Good! I go back a long time – I was at school when everybody took the 11+. Unfortunately I failed it, so I went to what was called a secondary modern school. When I got my O Levels, I was transferred to a grammar school and did well at A level. I then went on to a good university, got a good degree and later completed a Masters Degree at the UK’s leading Business School.

I loved school when I was studying for A levels. In sixth form, I enjoyed the sport, as well as the way the teachers stimulated us. Most of my teachers had fought in the Second World War and they were very interesting and strong-minded people.  They treated us with respect and we respected them. I feel that my time in sixth form was even more important in my development than university.

How do you think education has changed since you were at school?

It’s changed for the better. Teaching in my day was more about lecturing me and telling me than helping me to understand, particularly before I went to grammar school. I notice nowadays that children are much more involved in conversations with their teachers, and that teaching methods are much more effective than they were when I was at school. Students are encouraged to get involved in their lessons more. I enjoyed school, but I know I’d enjoy it more if I went to school now, and that’s all down to the teachers – I see really great teaching in every E-ACT academy I go to.

Tell us about a memory that stands out from your school days.

I was quite sporty and I knew a lot of students from other schools after meeting them on the playing field or the running track. Nevertheless, when I changed from my secondary modern school to the grammar school, I was very nervous about studying with brainy grammar school boys. However, when I arrived on the first day, one of the boys I knew well from the running track was waiting for me. I didn’t know, but he had heard I was transferring to the school and took it upon himself to welcome me and show me around. His kindness had a big influence on me and I later realised that the Headmaster had worked very hard to create a culture of mutual help amongst the students there.