In  February 2020, we undertook the search to find the successor to Libby Nicholas, Astrea’s founding CEO. The 27-strong academy trust, based in South Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire was set up in late 2015 as part of the Northern Power House programme.  The trust has grown to a family of schools, comprising of primary, secondary, all-through and SEN schools. As such, it was imperative our search identified candidates with both the requisite scale and leadership experience as well as the strategic vision to manage an organisation of this size, while also bringing ambition and enthusiasm to the trust, to build on their already impressive story from establishment.

Diversity and inclusion was an important priority for Astrea. Close to our values at Saxton Bampfylde too, we were acutely aware diversity had to be prioritised from the outset and so ensuring a truly diverse call list was the first priority. Reflecting this, the dedicated researcher, working on this appointment alone, spoke with 166 individuals during the outreach phase, with a gender split of 45% female and 55% male.

Our search strategy was broad: we looked at well-performing MATs both large and small, prioritising conversations with the Chief Executives, their deputies and experienced Directors of Education. We also looked at education charities and identified leaders working at substantial scale with ambitions to lead an MAT. In addition, we covered the private sector, where we focused on private education companies such as AQA and Pearson.

After a thorough three week search, we presented the cilent with 17 candidates, 35% female and 65% male; and 24% BAME. Our shortlist consisted of 6 candidates with a 50% male and female split. To assist in the appointment process, Astrea used our psychological assessment service to help distinguish nuances between the candidates in the final round of interviews. Our inhouse psychologist, Cassandra Woolgar, led on these assessments which provided Astrea with crucial insights from executive testing outcomes and a detailed assessment report on each candidate ahead of the final panel decision.

The successful candidate was Rowena Hackwood, who brings extensive knowledge and leadership within the MAT sector, formerly Chief Executive at the David Ross Education Trust. The Chair of the Recruitment Panel, Professor Sam Twiselton said of the appointment and process:  “We are delighted to have appointed someone of Rowena’s calibre to steer Astrea through this next phase of its improvement journey. The whole sector is grappling with the implications of these unprecedented times, but we will come through this together and Astrea will continue to do everything we can to support our academies, our pupils, our teachers and our communities throughout the challenges. Rowena brings both local understanding and empathy together with strong sectoral experience and so is extremely well placed to take the helm as we move forward.”



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