The judges said Halstead led the centralisation and general annual grant pooling across the nine-school Consilium trust – delivering savings of more than £1.4 million.
This ensured resources had the most significant impact on students and school leaders who had lost confidence in the previous financial leadership were re-engaged.
Halstead’s ability to build a finance team who went out of their way to support all schools was also impressive, the judges added.
“Excellent customer service is often the forgotten part of a strong finance function, and perhaps the hardest to instil into your team as a leader. “However, John has managed that successfully whilst also spearheading some key changes across the trust.”
The judges said the team at Chiltern Learning Trust was “truly inspirational” with an “innovative approach to problem-solving”. Led by Teresa Kelly, it supported 15 schools and two teaching school hubs.
“It is a strong finance team with demonstrable outputs and achievements, and there is clear evidence of cross-departmental collaboration, with financial and school improvement KPIs linked,” judges said.
“The finance team is regarded as enablers, not administrators, and provides training for future leaders who aspire to become headteachers. Teresa has been described as a truly exceptional leader, leading a team of unsung heroes.”
Hawkesworth was “clearly a champion of the financial community within this trust, leading by example”, said the judges.
“She is always available for support and keeps in regular contact with all schools within the trust to offer assistance and guidance as appropriate. She steps into the breach to help out when needed and supports the team through monthly meetings.”
The nomination also outlined how Hawkesworth “fosters an inclusive team environment where everyone feels valued and offering empathy when staff may be struggling with issues, either personal or related to their school role”.
After joining White Horse Federation as an apprentice in 2016, judges said Bennett had enjoyed a “meteoric rise”.
Achievements included being involved in testing potential finance systems, stepping up to cover the central accounting manager who was deployed to a school with financial issues, and taking on line management responsibilities of some of the central finance team and co-ordination with the external auditors.
Bennett is now qualified with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.
“She is a true example of the quality and commitment of the finance professionals the education sector can produce from those willing to undertake an apprenticeship with MATs,” judges said.
The award recognises MAT finance team members aged under 30.
“This award recognises innovative MAT finance projects which have had a direct impact on the financial operations of the trust,” said the judges.
SENDAT partnered with John Milton Academy Trust and Active Learning Trust to run specialist learning centres for children with cognition and learning difficulties outside mainstream schools.
Pupils remain on roll at the mainstream school trusts, but staff are employees of SENDAT, which is a specialist SEND trust.
Judges said: “An innovative approach around financial arrangements in this project, which have helped to solve some unique challenges, is what stood out.
“A project of this nature carries a risk, but it was well planned and executed. This important and exceptional partnership work ensures wider access to critical special needs provision.”
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