A News story by Ellena Schuster-Farrell 10 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 chatted with Pamela Coles, a member of the E-ACT Board of Trustees and Audit & Risk Committee.  In the second part of her interview Pamela reflects on her own school experience and tells us about her ambitions for the organisation.

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

I’m relatively new on the board so I’ve only been along to one academy so far, but I was very impressed with what I saw. I was also very pleased to see that at the board meeting the children were always put first and staff were always considered. That’s fundamental to doing things right.

It feels to me like we’re doing well for the children with what we’ve got. There is of course more to do but we’ll always feel like that. Even when you’re doing really well, there’s always more to do. But we are going in the right direction.

 What challenges do you think E-ACT is facing?

It does seem to me that E-ACT has really turned a corner. It did have its challenges in the past, but now we’re on a steady footing and we’ve got things in order. The big question is how do we get from good to great – we’ve got things on an even keel now but its making that next step.

How do you get your results up, how do you keep energy levels high when you are always going to have decreasing funds, no matter what you do? How do you get the best staff and keep them motivated? Those to me are the big challenges. We’ve turned a corner and we won’t go back, but we need to set that vision and strategy to take us forward to the next level.

How can we deal with those challenges?

We can deal with those challenges by keeping our vision and strategy in mind. And that doesn’t mean we have to be bound by it, because things can go wrong and you can move from your initial course for good reason, that’s what happens, that’s life.

But we should always be thinking, in an ideal world this is what we would like to do and aim for that, steering and altering as we go along.

We also need to make sure that everyone is clear about what needs to be done and what our aims are. Then, when we make a decision, we can be clear on why we made that decision. We can demonstrate the longer term implications and how it fits into the vision – that means people will understand the decision and get behind the rationale.

What are your ambitions for E-ACT?

Do more! My ambition is to get those results up, of course. But for me, education is about far more than results: it’s about producing rounded individuals who can cope with their world.

It’s about children who are working to the best of their abilities, no matter what those abilities are. You need to have the opportunities available so that children can discover their strengths and explore their abilities and build their confidence in them. You need to be able to offer a range of experiences so that they’re ready for life.

So yes, let’s get those results up but let’s make sure that we have children who are well-rounded, ready for life, confident and having wonderful experiences, because school should be the best days of your life.

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

My school experience wasn’t brilliant, unfortunately. I didn’t enjoy school. I went to school in the days where it was normal to be frightened of your teachers. I sat very quietly at the back, not participating at all…I suppose I absorbed an education.

I left school at 16 and joined a sixth form college, where I was taught differently. At that point, I completely blossomed and did really well thanks to that teaching. I had such inspirational teachers at college, recognising that the way you are taught and the interaction between teachers and students is so important in getting the best out of you. It was so important to me. If I hadn’t had that last two years, I wouldn’t have gone to university and I wouldn’t be where I am today.

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

It’s changed beyond all recognition and for the better. Lessons are so much more interactive. We used to learn the times tables by rote, and you just had to shout out answers. There was no individuality. I think bringing out individuality and letting people express themselves is one of the most positive developments that has happened in recent years.

But I am still quite astounded by the fact that basic schooling hasn’t really changed. You still basically have a classroom with a teacher at the front. I’m really interested to see what happens in the next ten years. As in other areas in life, I think the rule book is going to be thrown out and everything is going to be blown out of the water, perhaps with changes like teaching by ability rather than age and making classes even more interactive.

Schooling is so different from how it was but I think it’s on the way to being completely different again.

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

I remember doing a history project on World War II, and we did a play where I had to be an air raid warden. I don’t know why it sticks out in my mind so much but we had such fun rehearsing. And then on the day of the final performance all the parents came to watch – all of them, including my mother, had lived through the war, and everyone was weeping in the audience.

To us it was just a play, but it suddenly became apparent to me that we were acting out what these people had actually lived through. That brought history to life for me, so that from then on, when we were studying the Ancient Greeks or the Romans or anything else, I always had in my head that these events had actually happened to people rather than just being an academic exercise.

Approaching history in a different way like that had a real impact on me. I was nine or ten at the time and from that experience, history became my favourite subject throughout school.