Federation will link schools and colleges in Norfolk
Education in Norfolk is facing a new future following the creation of a federation involving up to two of the county's colleges, six schools and a private provider.
City College Norwich is leading the development of the Transforming Education in Norfolk (TEN) federation, which will create a formal link between a series of institutions covering schools, further and higher education.
The partnership aims to save money by setting up a shared service company for areas like human resources, ICT and finance, while also allowing the sites to collectively buy in support and secure the best price.
And it will also help bring colleges and academies, whose independent status away from local authority control has left them out on a limb, together as part of a smaller education community.
City College principal Dick Palmer said: 'It will give us the opportunity to do bigger and better things for young people right across the county.
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'We've been talking about this for three years. It's about saying collectively we're bigger than the sum of our parts. Of course, through that, we will be collectively and collegiately safeguarding our futures.'
Already City College – with its sixth form centre, further and higher education departments – and the two academies it sponsors – City Academy Norwich and Wayland Academy in Watton – have all signed up as part of the federation.
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A further four schools, one college, and a private education provider in the county are also discussing the possibility of getting involved.
City College hopes its proposed University Technical College, if given the go ahead by the government, could also be part of it.
The link up will serve to replace some of the functions previously filled by Norfolk County Council for the schools before they severed their links and became academies.
City Academy and Wayland Academy now receive funding directly from the government to source support services – like legal services, HR or broadband – which were previously provided by the local authority.
But with the college also needing many of the same services, the federation is to create a new company – controlled jointly by all the federated institutions – to provide some of that support.
Mr Palmer, who last week was forced to announced �2.85m worth of cuts to the City College budget because of a reduction in central government funding, said: 'We hope by doing it that way, we will be keeping more money at the front line in the future. 'The partnership will also give us a communal curriculum development strategy, we will be able to share teachers, and do staff development together. Things that the local authority did years ago we will do cost-effectively and we genuinely think we will be able to them better as part of this family.'
That idea of working as part of a family of education providers is one of the big draws for City Academy Norwich principal David Brunton.
He said: 'In the current educational climate it's become obvious that developing partnerships is absolutely crucial. Many schools and academies not linked to the local education authority could and will find themselves isolated.
'You lose touch with what's going on around you. This is a deliberate strategy developed by our governors here and City College to overcome that danger.'
Federations have become an increasingly popular solution for schools who are looking for ways to work more efficiently. Many small schools across Norfolk have already formed formal partnerships which can also help to overcome problems like attracting headteachers.
But the TEN federation's ability to cross over the different phases of education from secondary schools preparing pupils for GCSEs right up to degree-level courses will add a new dimension to the idea of a federation.
That will fit well with the government's hopes of getting schools and colleges working with universities to develop the new A-level curriculum. Mr Palmer said City College's strong links with the University of East Anglia make that far easier.
A �900,000 government grant, secured by City College, will fund the costs associated with setting up the federation including legal work and buying in a new finance system. It should be fully up and running by January 2013, with many of the links in place by this September.