Headteacher Trevor Bailey explains why Worle Community School and Westhaven Community Special School, both members of the Weston-Super-Mare Federation, have jointly entered the Trust School Pathfinder programme and what benefits he hopes becoming trust schools will bring.

One of the more contentious aspects of the 2006 Education and Inspections Bill, recently passed into law, was the proposal to make possible the establishment of trust schools. The key concern was that, having control of their own admissions, they could potentially disrupt local admissions procedures with a consequent negative impact on the communities that they currently serve and on other local schools.

Concerns have also been expressed about the possible impact on the terms and conditions of service of staff, as well as about the diminution of democratic accountability, since trusts will be able to appoint between one-third and two-thirds of a governing body. The weakening of relationships between trust schools and their LA has additionally been highlighted as a potential problem.

So why have Worle Community School and Westhaven Community Special School, both of us members of the Weston-super-Mare Federation, chosen to jointly enter the Trust School Pathfinder programme? This is a pertinent question, since both schools are fully committed to partnership in the Federation, which describes itself as ‘the education service for our town’.

Both schools are also committed to the wellbeing and development of the wider community which they serve and to the comprehensive principles of equality of opportunity and of access. Furthermore, we are part of a local authority that has recently received one of the best joint area review reports in the country.

Current misconceptions

Before answering the above question, it is important to clarify some of the misconceptions around trust status.

Admissions processes have been tightly drawn in the Education and Inspections Act 2006. Trust schools will be their own admission authorities, but in common with foundation schools, will be required to act in accordance with the national school admissions code, whereas they were previously only required to have regard to it.

A number of aspects have been tightly regulated to prevent selection by stealth. Worle and Westhaven governors are clear that they would not wish acquire a trust if there was any likelihood that it would move to developing admissions arrangements that did not reflect those in use elsewhere in the authority. It is likely that governors will want to secure certainty about this through the trust deed if they vote eventually to acquire a trust.

Governors have taken a similar view about protecting the terms and conditions of staff. Staff would transfer from the employment of the local authority to that of the governing body of the school. Normal transfer of undertakings (TUPE) arrangements would apply and governing bodies will have to comply with the national School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document. There is no difference in this respect to the regulations that apply to voluntary and foundation schools.

Weakened democracy?

It has been argued that democratic processes will be weakened as a governing body which acquires a trust will be able to vote for that trust to appoint the majority of governors, with only one place reserved for a parent governor elected by other parents. However, parental participation in the governing body will not not be diminished. The same number of parent governors will be required, even if some are now appointed by the trust rather than elected by parents.

Where a majority of governors is appointed, the governing body is required to establish a parents’ council which will have an advisory/consultancy role. The governing body must work with parents to create a parents’ council that meets the needs of the school and the needs and wishes of parents. The governing body will be required to consult with the parents’ council on its governance of the school and on its provision of community services.

Governors will be required to have regard to the views and advice of parents expressed through the council. There is real potential through this mechanism to increase, rather than diminish, parent voice in the governance of the school and we are considering the establishment of such a council whether or not we eventually become a trust school.

We do not envisage our potential move towards trust status weakening our relationship with North Somerset Council. Indeed we have had considerable support from the director of children and young people’s services and his colleagues who view our participation in the pathfinder as a valuable learning opportunity.

North Somerset is one of our five potential trust partners. The others are: the University of the West of England; ViTaL Partnerships, a charitable education company that grew out of work at the Graduate School of Education in the University of Bristol; the Human Givens Institute, an organisation working in the field of mental health and emotional wellbeing; and the North Somerset Primary Care Trust.

Addressing diminished aspirations

There are several reasons why Worle and Westhaven applied for the Trust Pathfinder. Schools in Weston face a number of challenges, not least of which is a culture of diminished expectation and aspiration among a significant proportion of students and their families.

Weston suffers from many of the difficulties experienced by seaside towns. There are also significant issues resulting from family breakdown, single parent families, alcohol and drug misuse and mental and emotional difficulties arising from these. We also know that a significant proportion of students need to have their learning power1 developed and that we need to become more learner-centred2 in our approaches.

Governors and senior staff in both schools took the view that the possibility of acquiring trust status offered an exciting opportunity to strengthen leadership and governance. It seemed to be a chance to build a strong and lasting partnership that would have the capacity, skills, experience and expertise to address the issues that we face. And it promised to bring about substantial impact on outcomes for learners and on the health and wellbeing of students, staff, families and the wider community. In short, it would help us to address Every Child Matters more powerfully.

The University of the West of England School of Education can assist us with staff training, expertise in governance and leadership and in developing research projects focused specifically on the issues outlined above in partnership with our other potential partners.

The potential impact on us, our federation partners and schools more widely of a project built, for example, around mental health and wellbeing issues, could be significant. Worle is an arts college and the university’s school of art, media and design is also part of the potential partnership, as is Hartpury College, a constituent of the university which specialises in agriculture and horticulture. The latter will support us in our work in land-based studies, as we prepare to take on the leadership of the 14-19 diploma in this area. We are keen to see the involvement of staff and students in research activity in our schools.

Developing learning power

We have been working with ViTaL Partnerships on the implementation of the ELLI3 project in the schools. ELLI focuses on the development of student learning power and we believe that giving teachers an understanding of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses as a learner is every bit as important as giving them their key stage test scores or their cognitive ability scores.

ViTaL is also working on ‘Courage to Be’, a project aimed at linking personal development with professional work and development by providing weekend ‘retreats’. These give teachers and other professionals time to reflect on their values and their work and to attend to their own emotional health and wellbeing with the support of the retreat’s leaders.

The final aspect of ViTaL’s work is the development of work on learner-centredness alluded to above with a project requiring teachers and their students to reflect on the extent to which the teacher is responding to the students’ learning needs both in terms of planning and behaviour. Individual coaching is then provided to support teachers develop their practice.

Enriching mental health

The Human Givens Institute (HGI)4 is a membership organisation and resource open to those wishing to support the new school of psychology known as the Human Givens approach, which is enriching psychotherapy, education, social work, primary care and beyond. It also contains the professional body of HG practitioners.

The institute has developed a new paradigm in the approach to mental health and wellbeing by promoting short-term and solution-focused approaches to psychotherapy, rooted in neuroscience and drawing what is best and known to be effective from the many schools of psychotherapy that are currently available. There is already important work going on in a number of places where this approach is being used to inform the work of schools and to shape the development of positive and healthy emotional climates in those schools.

The bringing together of these three partners with our local children and young people’s services department and the primary care trust would open up exciting possibilities for establishing projects and approaches that could impact positively on the challenges that were outlined above. Specifically, we believe that becoming trust schools, supported by our potential partners, would enable us to be far more effective in achieving the following:

  • the improvement of learning power and addressing the need to develop learner-centred practice
  • the development of the self-awareness of staff, students and the wider school community
  • the promotion of emotionally intelligent classroom practice by fostering an emotionally intelligent environment for staff, students and families
  • engagement in research to identify effective strategies to support learning and to further develop schools as communities of learners
  • the improvement of staff training through mentoring, coaching, professional development and linking personal to professional development through the Courage to Be project
  • the leadership of 14-19 developments especially in the arts and land-based studies
  • improved progression to post-16 and higher education
  • the development of new and effective approaches to mental health and wellbeing issues in the schools and their wider communities
  • continued development of innovative approaches to ITT.

Moving forward

We have identified clear benefits both for the schools and for our potential partners. We are still in negotiation with them on a range of issues and we have many questions to which we are jointly seeking answers.

Although the act has passed into law, the regulations that will govern trust schools are unlikely to be published until the spring. In the meantime we expect to develop a potential memorandum of agreement with our partners and to move towards a position in which we will be able to begin the first period of consultation with our students, staff, parents and the wider community. We are hoping to be ready to begin this in mid-March 2007. Once the results of the consultation are known, governors in both schools will have to decide whether to publish statutory proposals to acquire the trust. If they do, a further round of consultation follows before they make a final decision on whether or not to proceed to acquisition.

The process is complex and schools, potential partners and the DfES are working together to develop the process as it emerges. Schools wishing to discover more about the trust process or our potential partners can follow the web links below.

References

1. Deakin-Crick, R (2006) Learning Power in Practice: A Guide for Teachers. London: Paul Chapman.
2. See McCombs B L and Whisler J S (1997). The Learner-Centred Classroom and School: Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Achievement.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 3. Deakin-Crick, R, op cit.

4. Griffin J and Tyrrell I (2003). Human Givens: A New Approach to Emotional Health and Clear Thinking. Chalvington, East Sussex: Human Givens Publishing.

Further information

To find out more about Pathfinder projects:
http://findoutmore.dfes.gov.uk/2006/09/trust_schools.html

Our potential partners: