R. Finney, M. Nicholson, M. White, B. Townley, Claire Hughes PCC, 6 parents including 3 parent governors
Introduction by Rosemary
She introduced the Panel and background to application to become part of the Hereford Diocese Multi-Academy Trust
She talked about how we currently work collaboratively with local schools in our cluster and that these links have become stronger over the last few years.
The head of Church Stretton Secondary talked to Rosemary at a Head’s meeting about how they could support us as part of a multi-academy trust. This was followed up by the Head and Chair of Governors meeting to discuss the advantages of joining up with Church Stretton Academy.
The government is keen on schools becoming academies. One of the main advantages of joining a multi-academy trust is it frees the school up from a lot of extra work, such as health and safety, and enables the school to focus on teaching and learning.
The diocese has to give our school permission to join a multi-academy trust. Rosemary contacted the diocese and they sent Philip Sell to talk to governors about Hereford Diocese multi-academy trust. Those present were all very impressed with the professionalism on offer. Church Stretton is run by volunteers, but the Diocese pay people to run the Trust. We felt that on balance this was a much better option for us. Rosemary also discussed the financial benefits.
The most persuasive argument put forward by Philip was the commitment of the Diocese to keep church schools open; which is not a commitment the Local Authority are able to offer. Also the Local Authority simply does not have the personnel to support us in the way it as in the past, particularly as we now are a good school. Also, the funding formula will make us financially unviable very soon if we remain the way we are at the moment.
Is the 6% that the diocese propose to take from our budget a fixed amount or could it vary in the future?
Rosemary said that was the agreed amount, and it was essential in view of falling numbers in the school that we protect our budget. The budget allowed to the school varies according to the number of pupils in the school. Martin said that it was the only game in town in terms of securing the future of the school. He said it was a positive move.
Are there any other options?
No because the Bishop has to give permission and he is highly unlikely to give permission for joining a MAT that was not a church school.
Would the school become more religious? Joining the Diocese may put people off.
Rosemary said the question was asked by governors. The school would retain control of the curriculum. As we go in as a good school, we go in as a partner and this is an exciting prospect because we retain control.
What happens if we get downgraded from good?
We will be joining an academy as a partner and this is the basis we will remain in the Trust. Rosemary added that we can still work collaboratively with our local schools, but can also access the expertise from other schools in the Trust. Martin added that going in at this fairly early stage enables us to be seen as a leader in this area of Shropshire rather than a follower if we delayed. Rosemary said that the Local Authority did offer us an alternative of Federation with local schools. Our governors discussed Federation 18 months ago, but they wanted to retain a headteacher at Wistanstow and not share a Head with another school.
Martin talked about how difficult it is to recruit governors because the level of expertise and responsibility required. It is also difficult to recruit teaching heads in small schools because of the workload. Becoming an academy will reduce the burden on governors and the headteacher.
Is there still potential to Federate with other schools?
Yes, because becoming an Academy does not exclude this.
Will the school still have a Governing Body?
Yes, but the constitution will change e.g. no LA governors. The duties of the governing body will reduce and this will be beneficial.
Rosemary mentioned that feedback so far from stakeholders has been positive. One parent has expressed reservations but after a conversation with the headteacher has become more convinced on the need to convert to an Academy.
One parent at the meeting said it would be a disaster if Wistanstow closed and thought it was good that the head and governors were being so proactive.
Rosemary said that being proactive was part of the ethos of the school e.g. we have moved forward on assessment faster than other schools; we have been selected to trial a new national maths scheme.
One of the parent governors said that he had the same reservations as some parents have expressed at the meeting, and parents should feel reassured that due diligence has, and will continue to be done, by parent governors. The major advantage for him was securing the future of the school.
Rosemary and Martin talked about ‘value for money’ provided by the Local Authority for the expensive services we pay for – sometimes the services fall below the standard the school would expect.
What about day to day Property Management?
The school can decide who to employ to do day to day property management. There is flexibility.
Martin said he felt strongly that we are custodians of the school and that the future of the school would be secured for the long term.
One parent was impressed that the Trust employed a paid professional to oversee the Academy Trust.
A parent governor pointed out that with an OFSTED Good we are in a good position to move forward as an academy.
Is there any risk for future parents viewing going Academy as a negative move because all the news in the press and pronouncements from the Minister for Education are about failing schools becoming Academies?
Initially only outstanding and good schools could become an Academy, but then it changed to an emphasis on failing and now coasting schools, but we need to emphasise that we are a Good school and becoming an Academy is a positive move.
Will the School have to have Academy in its name?
Rosemary talked about change in employment status for staff transferring from LA to the Academy as employer. This was a concern for early conversions as there was a feeling that wages and conditions would worsen. However, the Diocese is committed to raising terms and conditions to the highest on offer within the group.
Are staff concerned?
Their rights will be transferred by TUPE. Unions have been proactive, having been informed of the possible conversion by a letter from governors, and have contacted the school to meet with staff.
How big a job will the transfer from old to new systems be for staff?
Rosemary felt the biggest change will be for the office. Rosemary outlined that the next stage in the process included money from the DfE to support the transition.
Bitterley School is converting to Academy as a Good school and it has been useful for us to ‘pick their brains’
The representative from the PCC said that a positive message from the school to the community and through the press would be beneficial.
All those who attended the meeting were thanked for their attendance.