'Dynamic' duo reunited as Norfolk academy trust chief executive prepares to step down and hand over reins
After decades in the classroom, Tony Hull is stepping away from education, and his role at the Evolution Academy Trust. Lauren Cope spoke to the outgoing chief executive - and met his replacement.
It has been the better part of two decades since Tony Hull and Mark Adamson last worked together.
In the early 2000s, the pair, as head and deputy head, oversaw a transformation at St Michael’s Junior School in Bowthorpe that prompted watchdog Ofsted to label the pair one of the most dynamic leadership teams in the country.
Now, years later, they are once again working side by side, this time as Mr Adamson prepares to take over the mantle of chief executive at the Evolution Academy Trust (EAT).
One of Norfolk’s most established trusts, EAT is home to eight infant, junior and primary schools in Norfolk, including its founding school Costessey Junior.
Mr Hull’s departure later this year will mark the end of an era - after two previous headships, he took over the school in 2002, guiding it through its conversion to academy status and overseeing EAT’s growth.
On the way, he has become a well-known face in education - winning a national headteacher of the year award in 2010, becoming the longest serving national leader of education in Norfolk and holding roles on government panels and groups.
But he said now was the right time to hand over - to give himself a break, and, potentially, a career change.
“Until Mark came in January,” he said, “I was running everything. I was chief executive officer, school improvement, finance - you name it. That was fine when we were one, two, three schools - but we are now eight and something had to change.”
The advert for his replacement attracted international candidates, he said, with a two-day “rigorous” assessment and interview process that saw Mr Adamson excel.
With his departure now a reality, Mr Hull said he would miss the role, and was preparing to get his head around the change.
“I will miss the personal interactions with children and colleagues,” he said. “This job is all about people and I will miss that.
“I’m flattered that I have received numerous offers to work in all sorts of areas of education. At the moment I have said to everybody that I’m not saying never. The reason I’m stepping away is to give myself a break, and the potential for a career change. I don’t know how I will feel in six, 18 months though.”
For Mr Adamson, whose previous role was an executive headship at Coltishall and Swanton Abbott primaries, he said applying for the chief executive role was an easy decision.
“I’ve worked with Tony before and I was impressed with the track record,” he said. “I’d been keeping an eye on the progress of Evolution, and I agree with its philosophy of putting children first.”
He said his first priority was to reorganise the top team - with Mr Hull having taken on most responsibilities, and the trust continuing its growth, he said recruiting in key areas such as school improvement and inclusion was a priority.
EAT has recently welcomed Poplars Primary, in Lowestoft, and will see Nelson Infant, in Norwich, join later this year. With three good Ofsteds for its schools this year and a visit from the area’s regional schools commissioner Sue Baldwin last week, Mr Adamson said it was a “celebratory” time at the trust.
And while he said schools were showing interest in joining, rapid growth is not a priority.
“It needs to be rational and sustainable,” he said. “We need to get the best structure and high-quality experts in place. It’s not ego-based growth - it’s what we have capacity for and it is sustainable.”
He said over the next two or three years, the trust hoped to grow to roughly 13 to 15 schools.
In another sign of EAT’s - and particularly Costessey’s - new chapter, later this year work will begin on a scheme to combine Costessey Infant and Junior schools onto one site.
“Of course there are efficiencies, but for the children it is one less point of transition,” Mr Hull said. “Transition can mean a hiccup in progress or social difficulties, but if you remove that then the children get a better deal.”
Education changing ‘out of all recognition’
Mr Hull said education had changed “out of all recognition”.
“The teaching role that I started in is nothing like what I see teachers doing today,” he said.
His start in education came before Ofsted, exams for primary pupils and the national curriculum.
“Teaching today is so much more focused on the child,” he said. “It used to be about the teacher, rather than the child.
“The changes are often not recognised the public, I dont think. It’s easy to see the six-week summer break, but not how much change teachers deal with.”
He said it did make education an interesting field to work in, something Mr Adamson agreed with.
The new chief executive, who has been teaching for roughly 30 years, said: “The quality of teaching has gone through the roof. It is far more focused on the children.”