Developing a multi-academy relationship between schools in our area
We have been considering how we might develop our partnerships to best meet the needs of young people and families in our community. While we recognise that good relationships already exist, we feel that going forward we need more formal collaboration with partners to give our schools the structure, service and security that they need in the post-Local Authority era. Our Governors have recently voted to explore the option of joining Lighthouse Schools Partnership which is a multi-academy trust (MAT). We would plan to join as a local hub of schools so that we have access to central services from the trust but also benefit from close partnership with our neighbours.
The schools consulting on this venture are Backwell School, Backwell CE VC Junior School, West Leigh Infant School, Flax Bourton CE VC Primary School, Yatton VC Infant School, Yatton CE VC Junior School, Northleaze CE VC Primary School, Grove Junior School and Hannah More Infant School. The current members of LSP are Gordano School and five primary-phase schools in Portishead and Portbury. It is anticipated that in time there may be more school hubs within the trust.
We believe that this will have a great many benefits for our children, families and staff. In particular, we will be able to share facilities and staff expertise to develop our curriculum and offer. The trust will also have a central focus on professional development for our staff so that we can continually improve in our teaching and learning. Each school within Lighthouse Schools Partnership retains its own individuality, ethos and values. In terms of the day-to-day running of our schools, there will be little difference to that which is experienced currently. In almost all respects the structure of the leadership team here would also remain the same with the Headteacher making operational decisions and sharing the strategic leadership with our Governing Body, but we will also benefit from shared planning and services with other schools and the challenge on standards that working with the LSP will bring.
The consultation period is from 8th May to 12th June 2017. You are also invited to attend a parent consultation event at Backwell School on Tuesday, 23 May at 7pm. You may also wish to send comments or questions to our Clerk to Governors, via the school office: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is an Academy?
Academies are classed as independent state-funded schools, which have the freedom to determine their own policies on such things as the curriculum taught, school hours, term dates and staff pay and conditions.
Academies are managed by their own academy trust and are not the responsibility of the Council. Academy Trusts are given directly the money which would have been given to the Council, so academies can choose how best to spend that money on the provision of education.
What is a multi-academy trust?
A MAT is a single charitable company which operates a group of schools. In this case, each school would continue to have a local governing body to which certain functions would be delegated. The MAT will ultimately be accountable and responsible for the performance of all schools in the trust.
Funding for the schools within the MAT continues to be allocated on an individual academy basis.
Why would a school want to convert as part of a multi-academy trust?
A MAT, as a single legal entity, allows schools to achieve strong collaboration and to use this collaboration and accountability to drive up school standards. Having the MAT as employer of staff also allows flexibility around sharing resources to meet the needs of the individual schools involved. The MAT can also provide a clear, consistent strategy and vision across a group of schools working together. MATs can often negotiate contracts and services that achieve much better value for money than if each school was to negotiate individually. By concentrating some of these decisions in the central team of the MAT Heads and Governors are able to focus more closely on educational standards and provision in their schools.
Which MAT is it proposed that we join?
Governors have chosen the Lighthouse Schools Partnership as the MAT that they wish wo work with. Current members of the LSP are Gordano School, High Down Infants, High Down Juniors, Portishead Primary School, St Mary’s CE Primary School (Portbury) and St Peter’s CE Primary School (Portishead). The existing LSP is being reorganised on a Hubs model so that schools in Portishead continue to work together and schools in Backwell/Nailsea for their own Hub. In due course several more hubs may be added to form a financially stable trust which enjoys both the benefits of close working relationships and strong central services.
Will the name of the school change?
We will not be changing the school name.
Will the school change its uniform?
We will not be changing the school uniform.
Will term dates and school day times change?
We have no plans to alter the times of the school day or term dates, keeping these in line with most North Somerset schools. However, we may consult with the other schools in the partnership to align some of our INSET days in future years to make it easier for parents.
Will the curriculum change?
We would have greater freedom and autonomy over our curriculum. This will enable us to continue to develop our curriculum over the next few years should we so wish and the freedom to review any proposed changes by government and to decide whether they are right for the children at our school. We may also choose to work with some or all of the other schools in the partnership on joint curriculum projects.
Will the admissions policy and criteria change?
Academies are bound by the School Admissions Code.
Will the school receive more money from the government?
At present North Somerset retains a proportion of our funding to provide some central LA services. As an academy our trust would receive that money directly and will be able to choose who to buy those services from and how they should be best deployed for the specific benefit of children at our school. By becoming part of a Multi-Academy Trust, we would be able to take advantages of economies of scale to maximise our resources.
Will the senior staff spend more time running the business side of the academy instead of focusing on the teaching and learning?
Setting up and running an academy will require extra administrative work particularly in the early stages. However, we will be using start-up funding from the government to project manage this process and to get the partnership up and running. One of the benefits of a MAT over a stand-alone academy is that the central team take care of much of the business operation freeing the Headteachers and Governors to focus most on educational and welfare priorities.
How will the school be accountable financially?
We will be governed by the rules and regulations for charitable trusts so we will be required to produce and file annual accounts with Companies House, as part of the Multi-Academy Trust.
Will the school get support towards the expenses of academy conversion?
We will shortly be receiving a £25,000 grant from the DfE to cover the costs of the conversion including legal expenses. As a partnership we also hope to receive an additional start-up grant from the DfE.
What is the Local Authority view on academies?
It is the request of North Somerset Council that all schools now join MATs. Academy status offers schools an opportunity to develop a new relationship with the Local Authority with the Local Authority becoming the commissioner and schools the providers of education. We envisage that we will continue to work very closely with the Local Authority. We have worked in close liaison with officers from the LA in developing our strategy.
Does withdrawing from the Local Authority control leave us on our own?
We will still be in a position to buy in the LA services as and when required rather than being tied in, or alternatively, look elsewhere if we feel there are better service providers. As we will be working in daily collaboration with the other schools in the cluster, our MAT and the wider region we will definitely not be on our own. We will also be maintaining our excellent relationship with North Somerset LA who have a key role in commissioning education and overseeing standards across all schools in the area.
Will the structure of the Governing Body change?
The composition of the Governing Body will be maintained as it is now.
What will be the future responsibility of the Governors?
The Trust Board will now have overall responsibility for educational standards and the business operations of the partnership. We will be operating a model of earned autonomy so in practice they will delegate the work of overseeing standards in each school to the school Governors. As each school will also have its own budget the Governors will have to take responsibility for planning and spending funds at school level. The most important responsibility of the Governing Body will be for closely monitoring educational standards in the school and acting to support improvement.
Can you revert to LA control once you have become an academy?
The rules from the DfE state that a school would be required to maintain its academy status for at least 7 years. There have not yet been any examples of Academies reverting to LA control.