Your questions answered
Thank you to those parents and carers who were able to join myself and Deb Bacon from the Co-operative College as she talked about our consultation on conversion to a Foundation Trust school. As we enter the formal consultation period I would like to share my rationale for seeking this change to the school.
You may be aware that the government is keen on schools working together and that its preferred vehicle for this is as an academy. A Foundation Trust is a lesser known but I believe more compelling model for Nonsuch.
The governing body and I have spent the past two years looking closely at what would be best for our children, and for a long time it has been to stay exactly as we are. Meanwhile, Local Authorities (ours is Sutton) have been slowly shrinking and services that have been provided by the Local Authorities to support schools have now been stripped almost completely away.
Nonsuch is unique; almost a village school in London. Converting to a Foundation Trust would allow us, through our governing body, to maintain our identity and our budget. A co-operative partnership would allow us to share the cost of buying in services – professional services such as learning support or advisors to help us maintain the validity of our self-evaluation for Ofsted, or for resources such as paper. It would allow us to benefit from expertise in the other schools, such as using advice from the schools with specialist educational provision – something that we currently have to buy in from somewhere else.
It could allow the school to hang on to our fantastic staff. In a small school, staff often have to leave to seek promotion. Our teachers could take leadership roles across the partnership. They could continue to teach our children during the day but lead training on INSET days or the weekly after-school staff development sessions that all schools deliver. It is hoped that if promoted away from the school, any movement would be within the partnership so that we would still feel the impact of their expertise or that they might then return in leadership roles. We would be able to grow our own set of ‘new teachers’ as students and support staff would work across the partnership, and we would be able to recruit from our own ‘pool’ of newly qualified teachers in a time of serious recruitment and retention challenges.
Education is facing challenging times. I believe this is the best model to take us forward.
Thank you for your questions that have been raised in your responses to the public consultation questionnaires. I have collated the questions raised and attempted to answer them below.
Can the targets in the booklet not be attained outside of the Trust? For example, isn’t improving the quality and consistency of teaching a fundamental in any school?
The government wants all schools to work collaboratively and is reducing the direct support from Local Authorities. The trust formalises the school to school support via a voluntary agreement that ensures all the trust schools meet the targets as described in the booklet. London Borough of Sutton has reduced all but the statutory duty element of their support for schools and is currently consulting on removing the remaining services which will not be available from April 17. By agreeing to work together we can share expertise and reduce costs in order to minimise the effect these reductions have on our children. The governments preferred model is an academy trust but this centralises funding and has one board who dictates what all the schools do. This model ensures our autonomy.
Were all schools in the borough invited to participate? If so, were there any schools that declined to join and for what reason?
Schools have been considering their future since academisation was introduced by the Labour government, many years ago. All schools have had open invitations to presentations sometimes arranged by other schools, sometimes by national bodies or organisations like The Academy Show Advisory Group. Two years ago schools were invited to a presentation by a group of schools from Birmingham who had formed a co-operative trust. At this time, our nine schools are in a position to consult. There are other schools who are also interested in becoming members of a foundation trust and may consult in time. Equally, some schools have chosen to consult on becoming academy trusts.
Will the consultation process be minuted, in particular staff comments and shared?
The consultation will be discussed and minuted within the governing body meeting in mid-December and early January and are available on request from the office . All questionnaire feedback will be available.
Will the objectives be measured and reported on?
The school will continue to report as it always had done. In addition, members would also receive an annual report from the Trust.
If the co-operative can’t agree on decisions, how are things resolved?
Each governing body will continue to manage its own school exactly as before. No school is responsible for each other’s’ standards or finance but are expected to work towards the co-operative values and principles and to be supportive of each other. Decisions will be made democratically. There will be a number of agreed sub committees from the Trust Board who will over-see the operational aspects. For example, some trusts have a Teaching and Learning, procurement and premises committees who look to see how their collective power is of benefit.
Is it majority rule where decisions are concerned – is there an opportunity to opt-out?
The schools have already agreed that we will share each school’s priorities and work together where these overlap. There is no pressure to be involved in a project if not a focus of any particular school. In terms of the Trust, a school can opt-out at any time unlike an academy trust where this is not possible.
What evidence of raising participation and attainment will you share?
This will be agreed once priorities were agreed but would form part of the reporting you already receive.
Will the transition impact on current teachers’ day job ie will any of the changes take my son’s teachers away from the classroom?
It allows the school to hang onto our fantastic staff. In a small school staff often have to leave to seek promotion. Our teachers could take leadership roles across the partnership. They could continue to teach our children during the day but lead training on INSET days or the weekly after school staff development sessions that all schools deliver. It is hoped that if they are promoted away from the school that any movement would be within the partnership so that we still feel the impact of their expertise or that they might then return in future leadership roles.
We would be able to grow our own set of ‘new teachers’ as students and support staff work across the partnership and we would be able to recruit from our own ‘pool’ of newly qualified teachers’ in a time of serious recruitment and retention challenges.
What does reserve the right to review the admissions arrangement mean? Can you give an example?
The school will remain part of the Local Authority’s family of maintained schools. We will continue to have a fair admissions policy and not introduce selection by ability or according to which particular school a child attends. Parents will apply for places at any school as part of the Local Authority process and the school will continue to work with the Local Authority to ensure that pupil places are given fairly in line with the published admissions criteria. However, the schools will continue to reserve the right to review admissions arrangements as deemed appropriate. An example, might be to include children of staff – this could be seen as an attractive incentive to ensure we recruit teachers in a time of recruitment crisis or skill shortage.
What are the implications vis a vis resources, accountability, admissions and the motivation behind the change. Why will a foundation trust be better for the children?
Nonsuch is unique; almost a village school in London. Converting to a Foundation Trust allows us, through our governing body, to maintain our budget and our identity. A co-operative partnership will allow us to share the cost of buying in services, whether that is for professional services such as learning support or advisors to help us maintain the validity of our self-evaluation for Ofsted or for resources. It allows us to use expertise in the other schools, such as using advice from the schools with specialist educational provision – something that we now have to buy in from somewhere else.
A concern whether focus would shift away from our own individual school and perhaps onto poorer performing schools? Also whether the other schools (in the trust) are more ‘needy’ schools and would drain resources.
All the schools consulting for the trust are defined by Ofsted as ‘Good’ or better and are not at risk of falling from these categories. Each school remains responsible for themselves and ensuring they maintain and improve their standards.
Is there a barrier to working with other Surrey schools rather than just Sutton school as we are on the boundary?
The nine schools have a history of working together as Sutton schools. In principle, other schools could join the trust in the future and could be from schools beyond Sutton boundaries.
A concern working with the other schools as the geographical location is not favourable for effective collaboration. As Amy Johnson School holds most of the consultation meetings it indicates that they will be playing a leading role within the Trust.
The schools are relatively close to one another when you compare them to some of the bigger Academy chains like Harris or Ark. Each school will take it in turns to host board meetings and any joint working would be by agreement, as we already have done for some of our INSET training days. No one school is taking the lead for the Trust. All schools will have one head teacher and one chair of governors on the board along with member representatives.
Amy Johnson School had more meetings scheduled as much larger than Nonsuch.
Will it be safe from academisation in the future?
The current government agenda is for all schools to convert to be an academy in the future. They have withdrawn forced academisation for good and outstanding schools unless a Local Authority can no longer support the remaining maintained schools (this is for statutory services which is all Sutton provides at this time). Currently, the majority of primary schools in Sutton remain maintained schools and this rule does not apply. In the future the governors may consult to convert to an academy: it may join an existing chain or create one through the co-operative college and maintain the values and principles. The future is unknown!
Vision is vague and more specific examples and aims would explain vision better to less informed stakeholders.
This is something we can review and revise in the future.
Who will administer the functions of the Governing Board and how will they be financed?
Have you got a value for money rationale behind the proposals for each school and is it possible to see it?
The Trust Board will be complied of volunteers and is cost neutral. The heads have agreed that any cost for joint projects would be on a per pupil basis as a means of fair funding. This has been the basis for much of the joint work between heads teachers for many years.
How does the trust assign members, as the members are limited, how would they make decisions as a whole to be fair on all schools?
As in the answer above, two members per school regardless of size. Each school appoints representatives to the governing body as per each schools’ constitution as set by government.