SSAT (The Schools Network)

Private limited company
Industry Education
Founded 1987 (City Technology Colleges Trust)
2003 (Specialist Schools Trust)
2005 (Specialist Schools and Academies Trust)
2011 (The Schools Network)
2012 (SSAT (The Schools Network))
Headquarters Islington, London, UK
Area served
Europe, North America, Australia, Asia
Key people
Sue Williamson (Chief Executive)

SSAT (The Schools Network) is a UK-based, independent educational membership organisation working with primary, secondary, special and free schools, academies and UTCs. Its work is focused on providing support and training in four main areas: teaching and learning, curriculum, networking, and leadership development.

The current company was set up in May 2012, registered as SSAT (The Schools Network) Limited, to carry out the business of the previous Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.[1] Whilst based in the UK, SSAT operates worldwide through its international arm, iNet.[2] SSAT has almost 3000 member schools in England and internationally.

The Chief Executive of SSAT is Sue Williamson, a former headteacher of Monks' Dyke Technology College in Lincolnshire,[3] and former Strategic Director of Leadership and Innovation at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Other educational staff come from a wide range of contexts and have diverse experience and expertise.[4]



Kenneth Baker announced the CTC programme in Autumn 1986. City technology colleges would be comprehensive schools independent of local authority control and serving inner-city areas.

The CTC trust was established the following year in 1987, with Cyril Taylor as chairman. The trust was primarily tasked with identifying potential locations and sponsors for CTCs. The ambition was to open two hundred CTCs.

The trust's affiliation scheme was launched in 1992, allowing it to establish links with non-CTC schools. An inaugural conference for affiliated schools took place at St Ermin's Hotel in London the following year, and so a pattern was set for an affiliation scheme and accompanying annual conference.

It proved impossible to engage a sufficient number of major companies to establish the original target number of two hundred CTCs. Fifteen CTCs were established between 1988 and 1993 and are now among the most successful schools in England.


In 1994 Gillian Shepherd, the then Secretary for Education, opened the CTC programme to local authority schools and also introduced a second specialist area – languages. Schools could also now apply to become technology colleges.

At the end of 1996, there were 182 designated specialist schools, mostly technology colleges. In recognition of this, the trust changed its name from the CTC trust to the Technology Colleges Trust. The trust's affiliation scheme was also growing quickly, with the number of affiliated schools reaching 300.


This period saw specialist schools become central to the development of secondary education. In 1997, the first sports colleges were designated, and were promoted and supported by the Youth Sport Trust. The YST aided schools with the preparation of their bids for specialism and were led by Baroness Sue Campbell.

The trust also began taking on arts colleges, with St Paul's Way School in Tower Hamlets, East London the first in Autumn 1997.

1997 saw the Labour party return to office after an 18-year absence, with David Blunkett as Secretary of State for Education. Mr Blunkett introduced a community dimension to the specialist schools programme. Schools were required to prepare a community plan for working with primary schools, at least one other secondary school and some wider community groups. At least a third of their funding had to be allocated to this.

Government targets for the number of specialist schools to be designated rose from 500 (by 2000) to 800 (by 2003) to 1000 (by 2004) and 1500 (by 2006).

In 1999 the first three special schools were designated as technology colleges.

In 2000 Professor David Jesson authored a study that compared results at GCSE with the comparative key stage 2 (KS2) primary school data from 1995. The analysis showed a value added score of +5.4 for specialist schools compared with −1.1 for non-specialist schools. For the first time, there was evidence that specialist status was linked to higher results at GCSE, whether it was on the 5+ A*-C measure, value-added or contextual value added. Schools began to make extensive use of the data themselves to evaluate their performance. The study became an annual project and is still provided today, known as Educational Outcomes.

The 2001 Green Paper Schools: Building on success introduced four new specialisms: science, mathematics & computing, business & enterprise and engineering.

The Trust was moving from an organisation which primarily provided bidding advice and support, to an organisation that held a much extended role.


In 2002 Charles Clarke succeeded Estelle Morris as Secretary of State for Education and instantly announced a lifting of the financial cap that had previously limited the number of schools that could be designated in any bidding round. A collaborative rather than a competitive approach would further accelerate the growth of specialist schools and a new target was set of 2000 specialist schools by 2006.

A second aspect of Charles Clarke's vision for what he termed a 'specialist system' was a more balanced approach to the spread of specialisms in any one area. As many schools struggled to raise the required £50,000 sponsorship, he established a Partnership Fund – a mix of private money (donated by the Garfield Weston Foundation) and public money, to which schools could apply to make up any shortfall.

The effect of lifting the cap on new designations plus the four new specialisms (as announced in the 2001 Green Paper) was a rapid rise in the number of specialist schools. In 2002 there were 992 specialist schools and by 2004 this figure had risen to 1954.

In 2003 a further two new specialisms were announced: humanities and music. An SEN specialism for special schools was announced in 2004. In 2003 the Trust changed its name to the Specialist Schools Trust (SST). The Trust's network of schools continued to grow – the number of schools affiliated passed 1500 in 2002 and reached 2500 in 2004.

A regional structure was established in 2002, to cope with the sheer scope of the network. Full-time regional coordinators worked with a committee of volunteer headteachers in their region and this steering group set the local agenda for events and other activities.

2003 saw the establishment of the National Headteachers Steering Group, initially made up of the chairs of each regional steering group. Its task was to steer the Trust's strategy for its services to schools. This was the 'by schools, for schools' model taking shape.

Practitioner-led programmes become more prominent between 2002–2004, with leadership programmes beginning with courses for aspirant headteachers and 'developing leaders'. To this day, SSAT leadership programmes are designed and delivered by school leaders.

A major venture of the Trust between 2002–2004 was the development of its international arm – International Networking for Educational Transformation – known as iNet. This network grew in response to demand from schools in England and overseas, starting principally in Australia. It exists and flourishes today, with networks in the United States, China, the Netherlands and Wales.

The Leading Edge programme was announced in 2003 – a response to the idea of specialism in school improvement, first proposed by Estelle Morris in 1998. Again a practitioner-led philosophy, a large network of Leading Edge schools exists today.

Following a challenge from the then Schools Minister David Miliband, the Trust began working with headteachers to define personalising learning. Professor David Hargreaves held a series of workshops with 200 headteachers and identified the nine gateways to personalising learning. A series of five conferences with ASCL (then SHA) followed to examine the gateways. After each conference, David Hargreaves produced a pamphlet with case studies from schools. By the time of the last conference in January 2006, the nine gateways had been clustered into four groups: deep learning, deep experience, deep support and deep leadership. The National Conference in 2006 focused on these four deeps and consequently a number of schools restructured their leadership teams on this basis.


In September 2005 the Trust took on a central role in the government's academies programme. Originally announced by David Blunkett in 2000, its aim was to challenge under achievement in the country's poorest performing schools. The programme had many similarities to the CTC programme of the early 1990s and required the Trust to once again change its name, it became the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT).

In 2007, the Trust formed a system redesign network – initially partnering 10 highly successful, innovative schools – to determine the building blocks of system redesign in education for the 21st century in England.

By 2008, the structure of the Trust's funding had changed dramatically. In 2003/4 the DfES specialist schools grant represented 43% of funding. By 2007/8 it accounted for 24% while 37% came from other commissioned work from the DfES and 35% from commercial income – work won by competitive tender along with affiliation fees and income earned from events, training provision and so on.


In May 2010, after a hung parliament, the coalition Government were sworn into office. In September 2010, Government decided to end ring-fencing of grants to schools to fund their specialist status.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, the organisation decreased in size but continued to win contracts overseas. The most notable of these was in Abu Dhabi where, as SSAT Middle East, it continues to operate a network of schools and work closely with the Abu Dhabi Educational Council.

The trust's contract with the Department for Education to support the sponsored academies programme ended in August 2011 although it continues its close links with academy principals and sponsors, and supports schools converting to academy status.

The Trust was now supported primarily by affiliation fees from its thousands of affiliated schools and the delivery of its events and activities. As a result, the Trust changed its name to The Schools Network – reflecting the organisation's new position in education. Its affiliation scheme, regional steering groups and practitioner-led training programmes all contributed to the feeling that a country-wide schools network was now established.

Chief Executive, Elizabeth Reid left the Network in December 2011 and was replaced by Sue Williamson.

2012 to date

In June 2012, after an announcement the previous month that The Schools Network would be going into administration, a management buy-out ensured that a new company, SSAT (The Schools Network) would continue The School Network's work. SSAT purchased parts of the UK operations of the Trust from the administrators and has since traded profitably, delivering high-value education improvement services to schools in the UK.

SSAT (The Schools Network) relocated to Islington, London with around 50 full-time staff. After hosting a successful national conference in December 2012, the company launched Redesigning Schooling – a campaign to ensure that the future of education is shaped by high-quality practice and research within the profession.

In December 2012, the 20th National Conference was held in Liverpool. The conference saw the launch of Redesigning Schooling, SSAT's campaign to ensure that the future of education is shaped by high quality practice and research within the profession.

The 2013 National Conference was held at Manchester Central on 5–6 December and welcomed over 800 delegates across two days of keynotes, workshops and panel debates. The importance of professional capital was a key aspect of the overarching theme of a new professionalism for the country's leaders and teachers and will be taken forward by the organisation in 2014.

The company continues to trade profitably and now has over 70 full-time staff.

Redesigning Schooling

Redesigning Schooling gathered pace in the Spring of 2013 through a series of events in London and Manchester. These events gave delegates an opportunity to engage in lively debate with leading educational thinkers and academics, and to examine much needed change in education from a variety of perspectives. Speakers including Andy Hargreaves, Dylan Wiliam and Tim Oates led workshops that have provided the foundation for a series of nine publications that have been distributed to SSAT member schools. The final publication will be authored by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan and will be based on their book Professional Capital.

Current work

SSAT runs a number of continuous professional development programmes for teachers, and offers support to sponsored academies and schools converting to academy status. It also offers support to schools and academies in the use of data analysis and supports networks of schools and academies across a number of subject areas.

It runs numerous events for teachers and school leaders, including its annual national conference in the autumn.


National Conference

Each December, SSAT's National Conference brings together leading educationalists, thinkers and researchers with headteachers and practitioners from all over the world. The most recent conference, held in Manchester on 5–6 December 2013 at Manchester Central, saw the launch of SSAT's campaign to professionalise the teaching profession. There were keynote sessions from Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves, Tim Oates, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser and over fifty school-led workshops across the two days. The 2014 National Conference will again be held in Manchester on 5–6 December at Manchester Central and will focus on the role of the learner, rather than the teacher.

Achievement Show

Each June, The SSAT Achievement Show provides a one-day opportunity for the country's outstanding practitioners to share their best practice and successes with their peers. The event is divided into subject areas, with a full programme providing a huge range of different workshops and keynotes for attendants. The 2016 Achievement Show will be held at Emirates Stadium, London on Thursday 23 June.

Annual Lecture

The 2013 Annual Lecture was hosted by BT on Thursday 23 May 2013 and led by CBI Director-General John Cridland.

International work

SSAT supports the iNet network of schools in 34 countries. iNet was established in 2004 and currently includes schools in Wales, China, the United States of America, New Zealand, Mauritius, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa.[5]

In 2006 the trust established the world's first school-based Confucius Institute, in partnership with the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban) the Confucius Institute now has a network of 34 Confucius Classrooms in schools, specialising in the teaching of Mandarin Chinese. This work was sold to the Department for Education in 2011.[6][7]

In November 2010 the trust signed an agreement with Hanban to train 1,000 teachers of Chinese.[8]

The trust also manages a number of schools in Abu Dhabi.[9]


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