Tags: Funding | Headteacher | Learning Partnerships | Networks and Networking | School Business Manager/Bursar | School Leadership & Management

In previous issues of Secondary Headship headteacher Brian Rossiter has described his experiences of PFI in the Bassetlaw district of North Nottinghamshire. In this article he describes the parallel development of a coordinated approach to delivering post-16 education across the area.

It has never been easy working in a post-16 consortium, but it has always been to the advantage of our post-16 students. For many years the three schools in Worksop, North Nottinghamshire have worked together to provide, primarily level 3, A-level courses to the town. Two of the three schools had small sixth forms that on their own would have been unviable. Cooperation meant that all the schools were able to be retained as ‘11-18’ comprehensives. Jointly the schools offer a wide range of AS/A2 courses and working in partnership with a local FE college, a range of level 1 and 2 programmes. In Retford, the other major community in the district, both schools in the town ran successful sixth forms with a smaller degree of collaboration. The local 3-19 special school maintained its own courses and progression routes for their sixth form students. This article describes some of the journey from the concept of extending the existing consortium model in the towns to formal agreements between the various educational establishments with an interest in post-16 delivery.

In 1999, I met each secondary head and suggested a major PFI project to provide new facilities across the district. A key feature of the project would be the delivery of post-16 education in purpose-built centres in each town and in partnership with the local North Nottinghamshire College of Further Education. While retaining ‘11-18’ schools, the towns of Worksop and Retford would pool all their post-16 students in two centres where they would be taught by teachers travelling from the contributory schools. The special school would be integrated into the work of the Retford Centre with dedicated facilities to support their particular student needs.

Winning hearts and minds It was crucial to get support for the concept from the other heads across the district. In Worksop it was a natural extension to the existing sixth form consortium. This centralising of resources was, however, a major step for colleagues in Retford. They have a loose consortium with two relatively large sixth forms. The head of one of these, Bob Hopley (former headteacher, Elizabethan High School), and I had long discussions on the costs and benefits of the idea. Bob saw that coordinating delivery across the town and district would enable students to have a wider choice of progression routes. Incorporating North Notts College into our planning and proposed centres would widen the possibilities for students and we hoped this would lead to improved staying-on rates after year 11. He was also aware of the perceived risk that schools would be thought by the general public to be losing their sixth forms. This political issue dogged our early work and could have destroyed the project. Terminology has been important. Schools would be clearly labelled ‘11-18’ and the consistent use of post-16 centres not sixth form centres allayed the fears of many. Colleagues will tell you of meetings that I have attended where I have had to remind people (politely but forcibly) not to use the ‘S F’ words when describing the centres. Bob believed that the potential benefits far outweighed the costs, particularly as the 11-16 section of his somewhat dilapidated school site would also be rebuilt as part of the overall PFI programme. He became a fervent supporter of the whole project as I continued to garner support for the whole PFI idea. Fellow heads came on board once the ‘loss of sixth form’ fear had been minimised. I had extensive discussions with the principal of the FE college on how we could work together across the two communities. The risks for the college included the possibility that the new facilities would be so successful that students would opt to follow more traditional post-16 courses and reduce the numbers enrolling at the college, thus affecting its viability. They were happy to withdraw from the delivery of most AS/A2 courses having gradually moved out of the area in recent years. The issue of what were the then GNVQ level 2 courses was a sticking point. As we said at the time; ‘managing the middle ground’ (GNVQ) where there was overlap between school and college sector delivery would be key. A potential benefit was that the hoped-for acceptance of staying in education and training post-16 across the whole-school community would increase enrolment in the college sector. He was willing to explore the ideas further with us. The turning point in the project came in 2001 when Nottinghamshire appointed a new director of education, Pam Tulley. Working with a very active chair of the education committee she prepared to launch the ‘Bassetlaw Vision’. Part of the vision was the proposed establishment of two post-16 centres; one in Worksop, one in Retford. It was with unanimous consent from all concerned that we launched into securing the vast amounts of money required from central government for the project to be brought to reality.

The schools and LEA progressed to bidding for and gaining PFI credits, running a competition among contractors for the right to negotiate a contract to deliver the PFI project, creating full designs for the facilities and finally agreeing and signing the project agreement with Transform Schools (‘competition winners’).

Resolving issues, calming sensitivities The apparently simple idea of concentrating post-16 activity in two central locations led us to set up two working groups to develop each centre alongside a highly effectively led Bassetlaw post-16 group that would coordinate all activity. These working groups, led by my deputy head, Andy Massey (Worksop) and Dave Bullock (Retford), each devised a curriculum model that best met the needs of the school and college communities. In Retford they concentrated all the outreach work of the FE college into the post-16 centre while in Worksop the close proximity of the college to the centre meant that duplication was avoided by considering both college and centre, albeit separate entities, as being one campus. The schools sector was quick in bringing their curriculum offering to the table. Dave, Andy and I worked with the college to meet their requirements from the centres. Agreements between schools and college have been characteristically complex. One of the most difficult issues to resolve was that of funding and funding routes for the centres. Our model does not exist anywhere in England. We have had false trails to other consortium models all of which are not like ours. The PFI credits that have been secured to build the two post-16 centres could not be used to build facilities for FE college provision within the centres. Neither could Learning and Skills Council (LSC) capital funds be used to build FE facilities that were not distinct from that provided by the schools sector. It was a nightmare of regulation and red tape. The different government agencies could not find a way simply to allow additional funding to make provision across the area more flexible and coherent. Our local LSC worked with us all throughout this difficult time as we eventually put together a capital funding programme that worked as far as the county council’s treasury were concerned. That has not been the end of the funding nightmare. In ‘techno-speak’ the centres do not exist in their own right. Therefore they cannot be their own cost-centres and hold their own budgets. Over the past three years we have been developing a ‘virtual budget’ model where funds are transferred into a holding account in one of the contributing schools. Under a service level agreement this school then manages the funds on behalf of the centre. Ninety five per cent of the LSC money for students registered at schools and 65% of the monies for college-registered students taught at the centres is being pooled and made available to fund the running costs of the post-16 centres. This led us to the next issue; that of registration of students. Schools are funded more generously than FE colleges for each student following each course. It makes financial sense that where possible students are registered as ‘school’ students. However, there is an effect on the college budget if all students taught in the centres were registered with schools regardless of the courses they follow. Hence the next issue had to be decided first. To determine where the students should be registered we had to decide those courses deemed to be administered by the schools and those by the college. This was again like walking in a political minefield. All our self-interests and basic principles were challenged as we reached a final decision. The administration issue being resolved, we went back to registration. We eventually agreed that those students in the centres following ‘primarily college administered courses’ should be registered as ‘college’ students. If they followed ‘primarily school sector courses’ then they would receive funding from the LSC via the school route. This nonsense was our pragmatic response to the funding regulations we are all bound by. This gave us indications of the size of annual budget available to each centre and hence what was available for premises, permanent staffing, teaching and general day-to-day running costs. The two centres are not large; 350 students in Worksop, 450 in Retford. The centres have to be financially viable in their own right. I talked continually about a ‘lean and mean’ management structure for each one. It has been important to create similar structures in each centre. Base provision in each centre will be a director, two assistant directors (0.5fte with the other 0.5 being senior leaders of learning (14 to 19) in the schools), a guidance manager, learning centre manager and various administrative support staff. Finance, ICT and examination management will be delivered through service level agreements. Again there have been a series of structural difficulties as we have attempted to identify roles and resolve legal issues such as contract holders and line management of these colleagues. We have recently appointed the first of the two directors and she has been enormously helpful as the fine detail has been ironed out. The teaching is to be delivered by staff from the contributing organisations. Colleagues will travel from their schools or college to teach in blocks of time at the centres.

Building design has been important for us. We have been fortunate to have been allowed to work with architects focusing on designs for these new buildings that are centred around supporting learning. In Worksop, for example, Andy Massey and the working group have worked to create linked and flexible learning zones in the building. An integral learning centre and social facilities for students along with administration areas all contribute to the final design. And foremost in their thoughts has been maximising the use of technology, linking the resources available in schools and college to support and enhance learning.

Legal agreement As well as considering the day-to-day management of the centres led by the directors and their teams, we have had to produce a legal agreement setting out the governance and management structure of the centres. Once again we have tried to have a common process across both centres. We have agreed that each centre will have a governing committee comprising heads, principal and governors from each of the contributing organisations. This committee will take decisions at strategic level and be allowed to take decisions on behalf of the organisations they represent. This has been an important principle to establish so that decisions can be made without reference back to other governing bodies. The tier below this group is a centre management group comprising heads, principal and centre director who will meet monthly to consider medium to long-term planning brought forward by the centre leadership team, along with the development of ideas from the contributing organisations. Throughout all this work we have received tremendous support from a near invisible county council back office team. They have worked up the financial and legal agreements for the post-16 centres between LEA, schools and college. They may not have been seen by many colleagues involved in the project but their efforts have made the recent final signing of the agreements possible. If you are ever involved in a project like this, support provided by the county council is crucial if you are to be successful. When the centres finally open in September 2007, all this discussion, disagreement and delivery models will be immaterial for students in Bassetlaw. All they will be aware of is a series of options post-16 that should allow them to follow a progression route appropriate to them and not restricted by structure or differing organisations. Flexible routes incorporating various courses will be available. A student, for example, may follow an AS music technology course in a centre and a media course on the main FE college site.

Uniqueness

As I write, I have a series of documents in my in-tray that lay out further proposed details for the centres. For example, the creation of a Bassetlaw ‘Common Prospectus’ and the extension of the common timetabling process that currently exists in Worksop to the whole of the Bassetlaw post-16 system. Colleagues at LEA, school and college level are continuing to work together to develop our solutions to ensure coherent delivery of post-16 education across the district.

We believe our model to be unique. Across the country we are all seeking to produce area strategy plans for post-16 education and training. Many areas have schools with small sixth forms seeking a way forward. We have addressed the issue of viability and loss of sixth forms head on and found a solution that others may wish to adopt. We would prefer not be unique. It would have made it so much easier to pick up a working model and adapt it for our own situation. Given that we are unique, let’s hope that we have found most of the answers and can move into the delivery stage with fewer issues to resolve in the future.

References: ‘PFI – The Roller coaster’ – Brian Rossiter – Secondary Headship (September 2005) ‘PFI – not if but when…’ – Brian Rossiter – Secondary Headship (October 2005)

Transform Schools – led by Balfour Beatty – www.transformschools.co.uk

Contact: BRossiter@valley.notts.sch.uk

Creating the right conditions for good behaviour

An independent group set up to advise the government on improving behaviour in schools has published its report. The Practitioners’ Group on School Behaviour and Discipline identifies aspects of practice that create the right conditions for learning good behaviour and offers practical examples of how this can be achieved. These include effective school leadership, pupil support systems and liaison with parents and outside agencies. The 10 chapters cover: implementing existing policies; spreading good practice; training; diet, sport and the wider curriculum; exclusions and alternative provision; schools working in collaboration; parents; support and guidance; school-building design and new powers.

The group says that effective leadership in schools is central when creating a climate of security and good order that supports pupils in managing their behaviour. ‘Headteachers and governors have a critical role in identifying and developing values and expectations that are shared by pupils, parents and staff.’ Schools should:

  • in partnership with parents, set high expectations for pupils and staff in all aspects of the school’s life and show how they are to be met. For example:
  • by clear codes of conduct
  • by guidance on how to improve their work
  • a dress code
  • ensure senior leaders use occasions such as assemblies to articulate their expectations and reinforce them by their visibility around the building during the day
  • ensure senior leaders model the behaviour and social skills they want pupils and staff to use
  • ensure staff receive sufficient training and support and how to exercise their individual responsibilities in the implementation of the school’s behaviour policy
  • recognise that leaders at all levels require training if they are to act as mentors to less experienced staff
  • clearly identify the responsibilities and roles of senior staff for behaviour improvement.

To download the full report, visit: www.dfes.gov.uk/behaviourandattendance/

This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Nov 2005

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