Joining forces brings benefit, but there are implications for governance, employment, and leadership, writes Mark Blois

The DfES has shown particular enthusiasm for innovation in the area of collaborations between schools. The arrival of the idea of federations of schools in the maintained sector was perhaps not surprising given earlier developments nationally in the further education (FE) sector.

In the FE sector post-1993, with the incorporation of colleges on 1 April of that year, a number of colleges went in for franchising provision with a range of private sector, charitable and community and religious organisations. This grounded the notion of networks of providers linked to a central administrative core of the FE college.

Education Act 2002

The Education Act 2002 introduced a number of measures designed to help schools be more innovative. Under sections 24, 25 and 26, ‘federation schools’ were one of those measures.

The aim was to bring schools together in a collaborative arrangement to raise standards, promote inclusion, and find new ways of approaching teaching and learning.

Who can federate?

Any type of education provider can agree to work with another, formally or informally, including FE institutions, independent schools, Academies and City Technology Colleges. However, only maintained schools can federate under a single governing body.

From September 2003, schools have had the power to create a single or joint governing body across two or more schools to work together in this way. There is a limit of five schools per federation. Thereafter the consent of the secretary of state is required.

Initially the power was confined to voluntary controlled and community schools but was later extended to foundation and VA schools.

Benefits of federations

Some quick benefits from a federated approach are combining forces to achieve enhanced purchasing power; to gain economies of scale from single (rather than multiple) contracts relating to buildings and grounds, ICT, catering and caretaking.

Being part of a federation also brings with it an opportunity to share resources, teaching staff, facilities and ideas to benefit from these in each school’s attempt to raise standards.

It is also said that federations provide an effective way to learn from the strengths of excellent teaching from colleagues in other schools.

Additionally, there is a growing interest in cross-phase federations to assist with smooth and effective secondary transition for pupils.

Types of federation

The DfES is keen to promote collaboration at all levels, in the understanding that schools need to take a measured and staged approach to cooperation and collaboration to ensure long-term effect and success.

The term ‘federation’ therefore has a wide currency, describing many different types of collaborative groups, partnerships and clusters. However, it is useful to consider there being two main types of federation: hard and soft.

Forming a federation

It is for the existing governing bodies to decide whether they wish to take up these options, and to carry out the necessary procedures.

For federations of fewer than six schools, the secretary of state (and DfES officials) has no role in the procedure (unless there is an appeal under general provisions that procedures have not been carried out correctly).

If any schools wish to form a formal statutory federation of more than five schools, they will need to submit a proposal to the secretary of state under the power to innovate.

A report on the proposal

In order to form a federation with one or more other schools, or to join an existing federation, the governing body must first consider a report on the proposal. The report must be specified as an item of business on the agenda for the meeting of which notice has been given in accordance with regulation 11(4) of The School Governance (Procedures) (England) Regulations 2003.

Where the governing body decides that its school should federate with one or more other schools or join a federation, and where necessary preliminary consent has been given, it must jointly with the other governing body or bodies publish proposals for federation.

Publication
The governing bodies proposing to federate must publish the proposals by sending them to:

  • the relevant Local Authority (LA) (or LAs if the schools are in more than one authority)
  • the head teacher of each school
  • all staff paid to work at any of the schools
  • the parents of registered pupils at any of the schools
  • such other persons as the governing bodies consider appropriate

A copy of the proposals must be made available for inspection at all reasonable times at the school.

Response to proposals
The governing bodies proposing to federate must jointly consider any responses to the proposals and each governing body must determine either:

  • to proceed with the proposals for federation as published
  • to proceed with the proposals for federation with such modifications as the governing body considers appropriate (but such modifications may not include a change in the schools proposing to federate), or
  • not to proceed with the proposals for federation

Governing body

The constitution of a federated governing body reflects the stakeholder model applying to individual governing bodies, so that any group that would have been represented on the governing bodies of the individual schools will be represented on the governing body of the federation.

Stakeholder groups are parents, staff, LA governors, community governors and, for voluntary schools, foundation governors.

Financing of federations

The governing body of the federation will continue to receive individual delegated budgets for each of the federated schools. It will be able to use these across the schools in the federation, but will need to maintain mechanisms to provide an audit trail for each school budget.

Once a federation is formed, a modified s.50 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 applies to ensure that the governing bodies of federations receive the budget shares of all the schools in the federation and have the same powers as individual governing bodies to spend the schools’ budget shares and any carried-over amount (which may include a deficit).

Leadership

The recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report on school leadership has gained a lot of publicity. It proposes changes to the law and regulations to provide new multi-agency organisations that combine education, health and social care (see ELU 69, page 8 for a discussion of the report’s implications).

The report envisages teaching staff and professionals from other agencies working together from the same site as part of reformed school leadership teams designed to protect both pupil standards and welfare.

Executive heads
The report also promotes the idea of executive heads, sometimes drawn from outside the teaching profession.

Seen against the background of the pre-existing federated schools agenda, this idea is perhaps less radical than it first seems. The concept of executive heads evolved out of the idea of schools federating under the leadership of an overall head teacher.

The National College of School Leadership estimates that at present about 100 head teachers are working in other schools as well as their own.

What does it mean?
There is no statutory definition of ‘executive head’ or ‘executive principal’. However, such terms are generally used to describe someone who is the head of more than one school in a federation and who has ‘heads of school’ leading day-to-day activities in each school.

In most such cases, the ‘executive head’ is — in terms of statutory responsibilities — the head teacher of both or all schools in the federation. If the ‘heads of school’ are the head teachers in statutory terms, then the ‘executive head’ may not manage them.

Dissolution of federations

Where a governing body of a federation decides that the federation shall be dissolved, or that one of only two federated schools shall leave a federation; or the secretary of state for education and skills determines that one of only two federated schools shall leave a federation, the governing body of a federation must give notice of the fact and the date of dissolution to the people mentioned below within 14 days.

A federation can involve a mix of primary and secondary schools. The schools involved are run on their own separate sites and as such this is not an amalgamation. Each school continues to run its own budget and admissions policy — and has its own performance tables.

‘Hard federations’
As those that are formally set up, have agreement on common goals and are run by a single governing body, with one executive head or many heads involved in their running.

‘Soft federations’
Soft federations are informal, but still with agreement on common goals. They are run by joint committees set up, for example, on particular aspects of teaching and learning or leadership, but each member school retains a degree of autonomy.

The proposals must contain:

  • the name or names of the governing body or bodies with which the governing body proposes to federate, and confirmation that that governing body, or those governing bodies, have resolved likewise to seek federation
  • the proposed size of the governing body of the federation (paragraphs 31-38)
  • the proposed numbers for each category of governor (paragraphs 31-38)
  • the proposed arrangements for staffing schools in the federation
  • the proposed federation date
  • the identity of the admission authority or authorities for the schools within the federation
  • the date, not less than six weeks after the publication of the proposals, by which written representations may be made to the governing body on the proposals, and the address to which they should be sent
  • such other matters as the governing body considers appropriate

Employment

One of the main benefits for schools wishing to federate is that it is possible to deploy staff across the federation. When a federation is formed, employment conditions for staff remain with the original employer or school.

So it will be the local authority for voluntary controlled and community schools and the governing body for voluntary aided and foundation schools.

If staff are to work in both schools there are two main options: either the staff member can have separate contracts with each school, or s/he has a contract with one and that school has some formal agreement with the other.

When staff are employed across more than one school, it is sensible for agreements between the schools to cover what happens if one of the schools leaves the federation.

‘Campus Woking’

One of the most interesting potential federations is currently being consulted on in Woking, Surrey. Surrey County Council is currently proposing a giant federation of 40 schools in one town, dubbed ‘Campus Woking’.

Sufficient votes in favour of this project could see Woking’s 11,000 pupils in one big school with departments all over town. Each school would maintain its independence but would work at an enhanced level of cooperation under a single brand and governing body.

The proposed model works because it has its roots in work being undertaken to build federations of schools and extended schools across the county.

But the vision involves not only the formal education sector, but also other services for young people, and builds on the initiatives in the Children Act 2004 to integrate children’s services as much as possible within a given geographical area.

The people to be notified are:

  • all relevant LAs
  • the head teacher of the federation and each head teacher of a federated school
  • every member of staff paid to work at the federated school in respect of which the request has been made
  • the parents of every registered pupil at the federated school in respect of which the request has been made
  • the foundation governors, any trustees under a trust deed relating to the federated school, and in the case of a Church of England or Roman Catholic school, the appropriate diocesan authority, or the appropriate religious body in the case of all other such schools where the federated school in respect of which the request has been made is a foundation or voluntary school with a religious foundation
  • such other persons as the governing body of a federation considers appropriate

Mark Blois is a partner at Browne Jacobson solicitors.

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