Plan to protect smaller Norfolk schools

PUBLISHED: 07:40 04 July 2012 | UPDATED: 07:54 04 July 2012

Council bosses are planning a partnership to protect smaller Norfolk schools.

Council bosses are planning a partnership to protect smaller Norfolk schools.

(c) Stockbyte

Plans to “actively encourage” small schools to join forces and become federations could secure their futures in Norfolk’s rural communities.

Officers at Norfolk County Council believe the creation of the formal, legal partnerships between small schools would help create financially viable sites, make the recruitment of headteachers easier and ensure schools had “non-teaching” headteachers.

Tomorrow, members of the authority’s children’s services overview and scrutiny panel will be asked to endorse a plan which would see many more of the 135 schools with fewer than 100 pupils link up.

Federations are legal partnerships between schools where they become a single organisation with one governing body and, often, one headteacher. There are 34 collaborative arrangements in Norfolk at the moment.

In a report to go before tomorrow’s meeting, councillors will be asked to comment on recommendations to “develop a strategy which supports the creation of federations for all schools with fewer than 100 pupils on roll” and “actively encourage” all schools with fewer than 50 pupils – currently about 40 in Norfolk – to form federations with other schools.

Alison Thomas, county council cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We welcome greater collaboration between our schools in Norfolk to ensure that every child benefits from the best possible education. Small schools are key to a rural county like Norfolk and federations allow them to have a bright and sustainable future.”

The proposals have been largely welcomed by headteachers, unions and governors in Norfolk who recognise the plans as a way to ensure villages retain one of their vital community hubs.

But they have warned federations will only be welcomed if they are well thought-through and the impact on staff, parents and governors properly considered.

Stephen Adamson, chairman of the Norfolk Governors’ Network, said he welcomed “any initiative which presents a viable way forward for small schools” and helps to overcome problems associated with them. He added: “Federation, as recommended in the report, can provide the answer to these, but where it happens it is important that strong and practical support is offered to the governing bodies involved to see them through the challenges that federating brings.”

Andrew McCandlish, Norfolk branch secretary for the ATL teaching union, said the proposals to create more federations sounded “eminently reasonable” but warned of a number of potential pitfalls.

He said other teachers would have to take on more responsibility when their federated headteacher was at another school in the link-up, headteachers would face much bigger work loads, and there was a risk one school in the group could become a “main” school while others become satellite sites.

He added: “Before any governing body imagines it is simply a question of economies of scale, they need to research the views of every person in their school community.”

The county council report follows a consultation which sought the views of parents, governors, teachers, headteachers and communities.

It says many small schools are only financially viable because they receive extra “small school protection funding” and funding per pupil at a small school in Norfolk – ranging from £2,857 to £11,748 – can be up to four times that of the largest school.

The report says federations would be seen as a single financial entity, with a single budget to cover all schools within the group. Funding would also encourage federations over less formal partnerships among schools.

Officers say collaborations between schools have helped reduce the number of headteacher vacancies in the county.

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