School Needs To Think About Status Before It’s Forced On Them, Says Expert

school 2 2014The Five Islands School needs to identify an academy model that works best for their unique situation here in the islands, before the government forces one on them.

That was the message given by Nick Appleby and Dr Pat McGovern, two experts from The Learning Institute, who were invited by governors to address a public meeting at the school yesterday afternoon.

Around twenty islanders attended the session, including parents, governors, councillors and Council staff involved with education.

The governors had stressed that the meeting was to give information about potential routes to academy status or closer cooperation with mainland organisations and not to make a decision on which way to go.

Nick started the session with a stark warning that whichever party wins the next election is likely to stick to the current policy of giving schools more control over their destiny, rather than being under a local authority.

“It’s not a good time for schools to be alone,” he said.

He also referred to the “tap on the shoulder” that the school had received from the former Education Secretary Michael Gove in March 2013, following an investigation into governance.

Mr Gove said he wanted the school to look at academy status within 18 months.

Nick predicted that any schools, like Scilly’s, that were rated as ‘requiring improvement’ by Ofsted would most probably be forced to join up with other institutions in order to improve.

But it was clear that school has a number of options.

There are federated trusts, where schools have separate governing bodies and keep their own funding, and multi-academy trusts, where money is pooled and schools are managed centrally.

Then there are looser arrangements, where the school could agree to be under an academy ‘umbrella’ or work with a mainland school, buying in the services they need but remaining independent.

But it was funding and Scilly’s unique geography that produced the biggest number of questions from the audience.

Parent Adam Blackwell wanted to know how money would be divided up if the school joined with others on the mainland, particularly as funding per head in Scilly is twice the national average.

And Fran Grottick was concerned that giving control to a mainland governing body could put services like Mundesley Boarding House in peril.

Former GP Adrian Davis likened his own experiences of dealing with the NHS on the mainland to that of the school.

“It will be a poor day if control over the money is lost,” he said.

Nick said there was no way to ring-fence either the budget or services if they went down the multi-academy route, although there were some benefits.

The trust would still be responsible for the safety of the children in the same way the Local Authority is now, so if boarding was the best arrangement, they’d have to keep it.

“What’s currently our problem becomes their problem,” said Nick.

An option in the future could be for the school to form its own academy. That’s currently not possible until the school improves its rating to ‘good.’

But Nick cautioned about “looking inwards.” He felt that the school needed closer working with others on the mainland in order to improve their educational results and to widen the current curriculum.

It would also give teachers a chance to continue learning and exchanging ideas, he said.

But he admitted that Scilly is in a unique situation and it wouldn’t be easy to move staff around between schools.

Nick suggested islanders should form a small task group, outside the Governing Body, to look at the options and to start talking to other groups on the mainland.

That way they’ll be prepared if they need to act quickly.

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