Tags: Headteacher | School Leadership & Management

Headteacher Trevor Bailey describes the setting up of the Weston Federation and highlights the threat posed by uncertainties about future funding for collaboratives.

The four secondary and two special schools in Weston-super-Mare were one of the first DfES-sponsored federations. The town was already in receipt of a leadership incentive grant (LIG) and Aim Higher funding and was becoming an ‘excellence cluster’.

The federation has supported the pulling together of all the initiatives into a coherent whole. The senior leadership team (SLT) – the heads, the director, her assistant and the senior secondary adviser – meets on a monthly basis. Each term of the six-term year, the strategic management board (SMB) – made up of SLT members and two governors from each of the six schools – meets to oversee and direct progress. Governors are bound by a written agreement and the SMB functions legally as a subcommittee of each governing body.

A great deal of progress has been made since the formal launch in January 2004, including:

i) the establishment of an initial teacher training partnership with the TTA with the support of the DfES Innovation Unit ii) inter-school reviews of teaching and learning iii) the development of a Quality Assurance Standard, a benchmark for self-review activities across the schools iv) the drawing together of plans for the various initiatives, LIG, excellence cluster and Aim Higher – into a single, coherent plan v) a policy on teaching and learning vi) joint CPD and Inset days vii) a student parliament viii) an annual citizenship awards evening ix) work between subject teams x) a common school day xi) attainment and achievement strategies, eg SAM Learning xii) a curriculum enrichment programme xiii) a business managers’ network ‘better value’ project

xiv) opportunities for cross-school leadership of activity strands.

This is not a complete list, nor will the end of federation funding in April 2006 be, we hope, the end of the story. Over the next few years, the federation wishes to develop into a full service, with multi-agency working, dual placements of students and flexible curriculum pathways.

There are also plans to work with Bristol University and the Human Givens Institute to work on the building of learning power and to address the low levels of motivation and aspiration endemic in a significantly large group of students. We are also working to develop a community-wide e-learning network with shared access and resources. These developments may well lead, in time, to a single governing body structure and the appointment of an executive head or a director with enhanced executive powers.

All of this must be set in the context of a future in which it is likely that most secondary schools will become foundation schools and in which the role of LEAs will change. Thus, a collaborative structure will, in the future, have the opportunity to become self-governing in an entirely new way.

‘If the DfES really wishes to secure successful collaboratives that are well led, are capable of innovation and that can make an impact on school improvement then it must address the funding issue’

Sustainability The main difficulty facing the Weston Federation and others around the country is the issue of sustainability. The DfES has made it clear that the new learning improvement partnerships, which it hopes schools will form, will attract no additional funding. In Weston’s case, this would lead to the loss of central staff, without whom momentum would quickly be lost as school leaders cannot give the time needed for coordination. There is a significant issue here: government initiatives are too frequently funded in the short term and sustainability is ignored.

The Weston Federation currently receives £200k per annum for three years. This sum funds the salary of the assistant director and two administrative staff. It also pays office costs and supports activity. The director is paid for out of excellence cluster funds, through the LEA.

This would amount to around £45k per year, per secondary school to replicate and £10k per year, per special school. The DfES says that, under new funding arrangements, money for this sort of activity will be added to school budgets and it currently anticipates no new money to support the new school improvement partnerships. This is where there will be a difficulty. If the money is not clearly earmarked in the budget delegated to a school, there can be no clarity about precisely how much it is meant to be and it would be hard to pressure an unwilling head to find it.

Future funding issues The Weston Federation is working hard to secure alternative sources of funding to enable it to continue, but recognition by the DfES that innovation and working together across schools costs money, would be welcome. If the DfES really wishes to secure successful collaboratives that are well led, are capable of innovation and that can make an impact on school improvement, then it must address the funding issue.

To suggest that there is money in school budgets is not good enough. In more poorly funded authorities, such as North Somerset, that money is desperately needed to fund staff and building developments. Understandably, there will always be some heads who make those matters their priority, even if it means an end to a collaborative structure.

Contact: [email protected]

This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Sep 2005

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