End of an era as Melton schools’ chief steps down

Chris Robinson, who has stepped down as chief executive of Mowbray Education Trust, after a 27-year career in Melton education EMN-170606-130607001
Chris Robinson, who has stepped down as chief executive of Mowbray Education Trust, after a 27-year career in Melton education EMN-170606-130607001

It’s the end of an era for education in Melton.

Chris Robinson has stepped down as chief executive of Mowbray Education Trust, which manages five academy schools in the town and villages.

Chris Robinson, former chief executive of the Mowbray Education Trust, in front of John Ferneley College in Melton PHOTO: Tim Williams EMN-170606-130155001

Chris Robinson, former chief executive of the Mowbray Education Trust, in front of John Ferneley College in Melton PHOTO: Tim Williams EMN-170606-130155001

He was appointed head teacher of John Ferneley College in 1990 and survived the seismic reorganisation of education in the borough almost a decade ago which saw the closure of two major schools.

And Mr Robinson then took on the challenge of overseeing the move to academy status of his own school and others in Melton after they then joined the trust under his overall leadership.

He believes that more schools across the borough will become academies over the coming years because of the cost-effective benefits of sharing resources, but he says there will still be a place for schools which are entirely funded by the state.

“Over the next few years we will see the number of academy trusts growing, but they have to grow at the right pace - there have been too many examples of academies that grew too quickly and came unstuck,” said Mr Robinson (68).

“We will end up with a mixed economy in terms of schools in Melton and those that need support will join academy trusts.”

The trust, which is now one of Leicestershire’s largest employers, manages John Ferneley College, Brownlow Primary and The Grove Primary in Melton, plus Ab Kettleby and Somerby primary schools.

They share human resources, finance and IT personnel, which create cost savings, while headteachers also share knowledge and expertise across their member schools.

Mr Robinson says the Mowbray trust has been particularly beneficial for the smaller rural schools 



it looks after.

“Instead of treating schools separately we can use our pot of money as an overall pot and help particular schools in the trust when they most need it,” he said.

Mr Robinson predicted there would be challenges for all schools because of government funding cuts over the next few years, commenting: “We have set a budget for the next year for the trust, and we have built in a contingency fund of two per cent.

“We are holding back some of the money so we can allocate it where it is needed.”

“We recognise that in subsequent years it’s going to be more challenging.”

One of the biggest challenges of his career, he says, was taking over at John Ferneley 27 years ago when, in his words, it had ‘a dreadful reputation’.

“Discipline was the main problem and the school was ripe for closure,” Mr Robinson recalled.

“But over the next eight years we doubled in size and became the most popular school in the town.

“It was a really exciting period in my career and I was lucky to be surrounded by terrific staff.

“We were all incredibly proud to see the number of pupils at the school rise from just 323, when I took over, to more than 1,000.”

Storm clouds were gathering over education in Melton, however, and after turning around the fortunes of his school he faced an even bigger challenge - a battle for survival.

County education chiefs decided to reorganise the way students were taught across the borough.

It was eventually decided to close Sarson School and King Edward VII Upper School and increase the age ranges at the town’s John Ferneley and Long Field Schools, while creating the new MV16 centre for sixth formers.

Mr Robinson was then charged with overseeing a £20 million redevelopment of John Ferneley College in 2009 to replace what had become rickety old buildings dating back to the 1960s.

And he believes his career would have been over if he hadn’t got it right.

“In 2010, Ofsted came to inspect us and if it didn’t go well I knew I would have to resign,” he said, still clearly emotional about the experience.

“When the inspector told me ‘this is a really good school with outstanding leadership’ it was a huge relief.

“I got the staff together to tell them and I nearly broke down.

“I went home to my wife and told her how close I had come to falling on my sword.”

Mr Robinson started his teaching career in his native Yorkshire in September 1971.

That was a time when teachers still chalked on blackboards and staff and pupils had to consult text books rather than resorting to the internet for research and revision.

But, he believes the art of teaching has remained basically the same as it was 46 years ago.

“You did have to survive more on your wits when I started out,” Mr Robinson recalled.

“Teachers are also under more pressure than ever before because there is a demand that they produce the best possible results, and quite rightly so.

“There is a much better relationship now with parents. In fact, there wasn’t a relationship between teachers and parents when I first taught.”

Mr Robinson takes great pride in his three children all being deputy head teachers and destined to follow in his footsteps as heads of their own schools.

Despite the apparent shortage of new teachers and a perceived general unhappiness in the profession, he has no hesitation in recommending teaching as a career.

“The great thing about becoming a teacher is that you will be doing something worthwhile,” he said.

“It will raise a smile on your face most days and you will feel you are making a difference.”

Mr Robinson’s immediate plans include an adventurous five-week trek with wife, Wilma, on the ‘Silk Road’ route from Beijing in China to the Iranian capital, Tehran. The couple, who have five grandchildren and another on the way, will complete their epic journey by train, bus and plane.

He is adamant that retirement is not on the agenda and he plans to explore new opportunites.

Christine Stansfield has taken over as chief executive at the Mowbray Education Trust and she will combine the role, in the short term, with her duties as head teacher of John Ferneley College.