For those who do not work in schools, it is easy to assume that schools consist of teaching staff and pupils. However, if you go into an Oasis academy, students and teachers alike will be the first to tell you about the vital role played by support staff.
When Jackie Bowen, Deputy Principal, and Donna Hindley, Assistant Principal at Oasis Academy MediaCityUK saw an advert inviting applications for the Manchester PA Network’s Manchester PA of the Year Award, they didn’t hesitate in writing an application on behalf of Principal’s PA Lizzy Wilding.
Why do you think the nominee should win a Manchester PA of the Year Award? “Lizzy’s professionalism, determination, kindness and creativity permeates all she does” wrote Jackie. “She is able to pre-empt people’s needs, perform under pressure and always does
whatever it takes to ensure the highest possible standards for our students.”
Please provide an example of a great achievement from the nominee. “The Academy was placed into ‘Special Measures, and with Lizzy’s support we have moved to ‘Good,’”” Jackie continued. “Lizzy was able to coordinate schedules to provide valuable support to other colleagues, and streamline processes to make the performance of the leadership team much more efficient. Too often, non-teaching staff can be overlooked but without Lizzy, this outcome simply would not be possible.”
News of Lizzy’s nomination soon spread through the academy with staff being quick to offer their congratulations, particularly Fiona O’Sullivan, Principal of Oasis Academy MediaCityUK.
“Lizzy has worked as my personal assistant for the last two years and has been instrumental in ensuring that the academy has been able to make the rapid improvements from special measures in 2014 to achieve a ‘Good’ Ofsted judgement in 2016,” says Fiona.
“She is exceptional, highly motivated and deeply committed to achieving the academy vision and the very best for all our children. Lizzy is extremely flexible and adaptable and works directly with our students on all sorts of projects. Lizzy leads several initiatives and has been the ‘face of the academy’ on so many occasions by welcoming visitors from a range of local and national agencies. Her job is very varied and far from desk bound.”
As the weeks progressed, Lizzy was invited to a number of meetings, including a panel interview. Grilled on her day-to-day role and the impact she has had in her short time at the Academy, the panel were clearly impressed.
Lizzy went on to be shortlisted for Manchester PA of the Year, beating hundreds of other nominees. One of the aspects that most likely impressed the judges was Lizzy’s ability to make such an immediately positive impact.
“When I first started at Oasis MediaCityUK, the Academy was in ‘Special Measures’ and was in a constant inspection cycle – we had visits from Ofsted, the Department for Education, and the Oasis Community Learning Monitoring Team,” explains Lizzy. “What I was struck by was the commitment by everyone to do what it takes to improve the Academy for the students.”
“For me that meant a focus on coordinating the visits from inspectors, ensuring they were well accommodated and had a clear schedule, as well as handling any of their ad hoc requests. My main priority was to support the ‘Getting to Good’ action plan which involved preparing documentation and supporting various meetings between staff, including book scrutinies and lesson observations.”
“In June 2016, the academy achieved a ‘Good’ rating, which was a culmination of hard work across the academy and positive changes that had been put in place by an incredible leadership team. A real career highlight was receiving a mention from the lead inspector about my involvement in the process!”
The awards ceremony took place at Victoria Warehouse in November, with over 700 professionals in attendance. Lizzy was surrounded by a group of colleagues and friends, who came to support her and celebrate her success at coming so far, despite not going on to win the award.
Previously a PA or in administrative roles for private businesses, Lizzy made the move to Oasis Academy MediaCityUK to make a difference to the lives of others.
“I really feel now that everything I do is to benefit the young people I serve and that motivates me every day.”
What does a normal day look like for you? “There isn’t really a normal day – but that’s part of why I love it. There is constant fluidity and challenge to the role and every day can be so different to the next! I try to meet briefly with Fiona to catch up and go through any tasks that need to be done each day.”
“I then welcome students into the Academy in the morning, which is one of my favourite parts of the day. From there the day can include diary management, preparing for meetings, coordinating events, preparing marketing materials, liaising with external contacts and improving partner relationships, creating briefings and assembly slides, meeting with students, welcoming visitors, completing admin for ALT members…”
And what is behind the swift progress the Academy has made? “The team we have at MediaCityUK is amazing - everybody supports one another, and it really feels like we are united in achieving our vision for our students. I think Fiona is the best boss in the world; her work ethic every day, and her leadership are inspirational. It is an absolute privilege working with her.”
Having achieved so much in such a short amount of time at the Academy, it is little surprise that Lizzy already has a plan for what is next as she reveals that she has started a degree in Primary Education to become a teacher.
Unsurprisingly Principal Fiona O’Sullivan is keen to ensure Lizzy that stays within the family: “Lizzy is a real pleasure to work with and exemplifies the Oasis 9 Habits in everything that she does. As well as her role at the Academy, she is studying for a degree in primary education and without doubt will be an amazing primary principal in the next 10 years – I hope within Oasis!”