The future of Catholic Education in Bletchley Parish
Following the statement of governors that was read out at all Parish Masses on the weekend of the 25th and 26th January, and distributed to both school communities on Monday 27thJanuary, the Joint Federation Committee (JFC) would like to respond to the queries that have been received so far.
It is worth noting that during March, the governing boards of both schools will meet to consider separate reports on the impact of Federation status on each school. Every aspect of our schools will be considered from their distinctive Catholic identity through to the need to continuously strive for the highest possible quality of learning and teaching that allows us to achieve the best possible standards of education for our youngsters.
The JFC will shortly agree dates for the consultation period and these will include an evening forum where all stakeholders will be invited to engage with members of the committee. This is likely to take place over the Summer Term.
The JFC would like to take the opportunity to thank all members of the community who have raised queries and have offered support, guidance and advice as we continue this journey.
BENEFITS OF FEDERATION
What evidence is there that the move to a Hard Federation will improve the education of children in Bletchley Parish? How do we ensure that it is mutually beneficial for both schools?
Bletchley Parish is one of the largest parishes in the Diocese and is unique in its position of having two standalone Catholic Primary Schools. Whilst the pace of change is so rapid within education, one area remains consistent which is that schools are expected to engage in collaboration. It seems natural, therefore, that this collaboration should develop between the two schools in our parish. The Hard Federation is not new either. As far back as 2009, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), published a document called “How can Hard Federation help your school” (http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/8969/1/00415-2009.pdf) in which it listed the advantages of Hard Federation based on research carried out by the NCSL (National College of School Leaders) in 2007. It highlighted the advantages in terms of developing leadership at a number of levels, personalising learning and providing wider and more enriching opportunities for children. The NCSL paper, “A study of hard federations of small primary schools” (http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/7054/1/download%3Fid%3D17200%26filename%3Dhard-federations-of-small-primary-schools.pdf) outlines these areas in more detail. The case studies also show that no Hard Federation is the same. It also weighs up areas where Hard Federation has been both very successful and areas where this is less so. This includes the Executive Head’s role in popping into classrooms to monitor the quality of learning and teaching and the challenges that this presents, the work-life balance associated with the role and the management of budget for the individual needs of each school. There is a need to ensure that the Executive Head has experience, particularly of managing change, a track record of school improvement, and a demonstration of a vision for an outstanding school, that ensures that both schools continue to aspire to this from their different starting points. The leaders and governors will ensure that, in managing this change, the individual identity of each school remains at the core of Hard Federation, it is not an amalgamation, both schools would report results separately and would be subject to individual Ofsted inspections.
Is Federation and sharing a Headteacher a cost saving exercise?
No. External advice is that federation and the appointment of an Executive Headteacher (EHT) does not lead to significant cost savings. This was not one of the reasons for progressing towards federation or for seeking to appoint an EHT.
The most recent Ofsted reports show St Thomas Aquinas as Outstanding and Bishop Parker as Satisfactory. Does this difference pose a major risk to the quality of children’s education at St. Thomas Aquinas?
It is the role of the Executive Head Teacher together with the Governing Body to ensure that each school maximises its resources and their effective utilisation to achieve the best outcomes for the children of both schools. There will not be a weighting of resource in favour of one school compared with the other, whether that be to close any gap between the performance of St Thomas Aquinas and Bishop Parker, or to maintain and further advance the excellence of St Thomas Aquinas at the expense of Bishop Parker. It would be potentially detrimental to Catholic education in the Parish and the surrounding area for St Thomas to lose its Outstanding status and the Governing Body would not put that at risk.
While Ofsted shows a clear distinction between the two schools, (and there is a difference) that difference in attainment is neither as stark as the last Ofsted report suggests nor as is often perceived. The grading of Bishop Parker as Satisfactory is due for the most part to a dip in the Key Stage 2 (KS2 ) results in 2011, the last available statistics for the Ofsted inspection team when they inspected in the spring of 2012. In both 2012 and 2013 the outcomes at KS2 improved significantly and Bishop Parker’s results exceeded the Milton Keynes and National Averages at both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Its Value Added between KS1 and KS2, that is the measure of pupil progress, is the same as St Thomas’. While Bishop Parker has still to gain Ofsted’s confidence that it has improved, and to continue that process of improvement, it can through its results evidence that it is a good school.
LEADERSHIP and MANAGEMENT
Why did the two governing bodies decide to seek the appointment of an Executive Headteacher and not continue with one Headteacher for each school?
In the advance knowledge that Mrs Donohue was planning to retire in July 2014, Bishop Parker governors had been discussing, for many months, their succession planning strategy to recruit a new Headteacher. This process was well in hand when the news broke that Mr O’Malley, the Headteacher of St Thomas Aquinas School, had tendered his resignation, to take effect also from July 2014. Prompted by this sudden change in circumstance, both Governing Bodies felt it would be wise to meet and discuss our way forward. In joint discussions, and with advice from the Diocese and Local Authority, decisions were taken to seek an Executive Head Teacher (EHT) and to work towards a Hard Federation between the two schools. Bishop Parker governors took the view that the benefits to be gained from close collaboration with St Thomas’, its sister school in the Parish, warranted withdrawal of its own Headteacher vacancy, despite the considerable time and cost expended. Both governing bodies shared the view that the potential benefits of close collaboration were greater than those achievable from each school working on a standalone basis.
How will the appointment of an Executive Head Teacher affect the management structures across both Schools? Will there be other posts offered that transcend both schools?
It has been well documented both within the Diocese and on a National level that there is a recruitment crisis with regard to leadership roles within primary schools, and especially Catholic primary schools. This does not mean that the decision both to federate and to appoint an Executive Head Teacher is in direct response to this crisis. As a large parish with two schools that already attract new, dynamic teachers, it is an opportunity to invest in their future leadership potential. A successful candidate will have a proven track record of impact leadership and a clear vision that includes fostering the potential of our future leaders. Currently, there are no plans to appoint any further posts that transcend both schools but it is clear that a successful candidate will look at the needs of each school and will look at those key areas of development that require inter-school collaboration. He/she will clearly work closely with the JFC to propose a leadership structure which best suits the individual development needs of each school. It is more than likely that this will be a key part of the EHT recruitment and interview process.
How does an Executive Head split their time between two schools? Surely they are compromised when it comes to being accessible to parents.
An EHT will work with governors to ensure that any leadership structure allows for full engagement with parents and stakeholders on a day to day basis, as is the case currently. Where schools have federated in other areas across the Diocese, this usually involves the appointment of a “Head of School” who takes a leading role in day to day operations such as accessibility. The JFC continues to take advice from the Diocese and the Local Authority to ensure that the pupil-parent-teacher partnership remains at the core or our schools’ mission.
How does the appointment of an Executive Headteacher work when the schools are at an early stage in the federation process?
The EHT will work with the existing school leadership teams. It is expected that the EHT will be an experienced Headteacher who will already know how to manage a school and to work effectively with a team of people. Part of the challenge for the EHT will be to bring their skills to bear in maximising the existing resources and the impact of those resources in bringing the federation process to fruition and fulfilment.
How will the Federation ensure that it can recruit and retain high quality teachers and leaders within its schools?
The decision to appoint an EHT is clearly not just about that post but what can be created alongside. With both schools seeking to replace the current Headteachers at the same time, it is clear that the appointment of an EHT allows a successful candidate to work with the governors to create and establish leadership opportunities that allow the schools to retain those colleagues who already display outstanding leadership qualities, who are committed to our youngster’s development of their faith, and who may have looked elsewhere to further their career. In the longer term, the success of the new EHT, the leadership team and all staff, will enable the schools to continue to attract high quality teachers and the next generation of leaders.
How closely have the STA and BP governing bodies worked previously? Are both prepared to work together to improve standards in both schools with an Executive Head during a transition period? What is the likely structure for a combined governing body?
Historically there is little evidence of close working, however, in the past two years, the Governing Bodies have been working more closely, to learn from each other how to enhance good governance within each school, and together to address and manage effectively the developing changes within education. During the academic year of 2012-13, there had been two joint meetings where the Governing Bodies had met to discuss the challenges that each school faced in their development. It is clear that with the pace of change in education, this partnership needs to be developed. In January 2014 at a joint Extraordinary General Meeting both Governing Bodies agreed, after an open and free discussion, to pursue Hard Federation. Hard Federation is likely to mean that there will be a process by which one governing body will oversee both schools. However, each school can also set up their own individual committees according to need e.g. personnel, admissions, curriculum and school improvement. These committees need not be made up solely of members of the Federation Governing Board; they are able to appoint members according to their specific expertise. The FGB’s purpose is therefore, in many cases, to ratify the decisions made within these committees.
The FGB structure itself will, of course, ensure that there is parity with regard to the representation and interests of both schools. As with any governing body, the DfE has strict constitutional rules on its membership with regard to the number of foundation, parent and staff governors. The Joint Federation Committee membership already adheres to these constitutional rules and this will ensure that both schools can continue to thrive during this transitional period.
Once the timeframe for moving to Federation is established, there will be an election process for the new FGB. Up until this point, the present GBs will continue to shape the strategic direction of each school and will continue to operate with their existing committees. As mentioned previously, those governors who are not elected to the full FGB still have a vital role to play in the individual school committees.
How do you propose to engage parents and the Bletchley Parish community during this whole process? Will Governors invite parents to a briefing meeting?
A consultation document will be released in the Summer Term which will include a public forum for all stakeholders to come along and engage with the Joint Federation Committee.
Will the move to Hard Federation have any impact on intake or admissions?
Admissions and intake policies remain individual to each school. There will be no compulsion to put down both schools within the federation when indicating preferred choices and there will be no impact on an application for admission if either St Thomas’ or Bishop Parker is not included in an applicant’s selected options. Of course, it is hoped that by providing two excellent Catholic Primary schools within the Parish, that all catholic children in the area will want to seek admission to one of our two schools.
Is the move to Hard Federation being imposed upon us by politically driven forces?
Not at all. As discussed earlier, the move to a Hard Federation has shown to be a tried and tested strategy that goes back nearly 8 years. The GBs of each school have sought advice from the Diocese and the Local Authority who have been able to use working examples in order to inform. Federation is a growing trend amongst schools throughout the country and this includes Catholic schools both within and beyond our Diocese.
It is important to note that Hard Federation is quite distinct from academy status. The academisation programme is, of course, politically driven, initially by the previous Labour government and now by the Coalition government. The Secretary of State for Education has made it clear that the government wants to see all schools adopt academy status and it is uncertain what pressures might be applied in the future to push schools towards academy status. Academy status often involves collaboration with other schools because academies move outside the control of local authorities and can no longer automatically avail themselves of the support and services local authorities provide. Collaboration, including federation, assists schools to manage within the academy framework but academisation is not our reason for working towards Hard Federation.
How have the views of staff been taken into consideration?
All members of the two governing bodies, including staff governor representatives, have been invited to be, and have been, engaged in the process since the GBs first met to discuss becoming a Hard Federation. The constitution of the JFC will ensure that the views of staff continue to be aired with current staff governors from both schools forming an integral part of its membership. Members of both governing bodies have met with members of staff from both schools and will continue to engage with them. Many of the FAQs addressed here have been submitted by members of staff.