This communication includes a Communication Brief, which is being sent to all the parents of the fifteen schools that are considering the formation of Dartmoor Multi-Academy Trust (‘the Trust’). We hope this sets out clearly the reasons for establishing the Trust. We are writing this letter to explain why we think joining the Trust may be the best opportunity for the future of our own school and also to tell you how the governors are approaching this.
Our Vision for Chagford School
We believe that the children in our catchment area, from pre-school to age nineteen, should have the best possible education that can be provided locally. The educational standards, facilities and buildings should all be of the highest possible quality.
Our school has been, and remains, on a journey of improvement.
We are delighted that the EFA has now obtained planning permission for the replacement of the old school building. This means that within the next few years, children will have one of the best learning environments and recreational facilities of any primary school in the area. We are grateful to all those parents who have contributed to the design process to achieve this great result.
The Headteacher and her staff have been working collaboratively with other local schools to develop the quality of teaching and learning in our school. This has been enabled by our school joining the Dartmoor Cooperative Learning Trust in 2015. Since then, there have been significant improvements to teaching driven by the collaborative sharing of knowledge. The school was rated ‘good’ by OFSTED last year and our ambition is to improve on this and obtain an ‘outstanding’ rating.
Partnership and co-operative ethos
The ethos of mutual learning and support is a significant part of the culture of our school. The school has already benefitted from the co-operative working in partnership with other schools and therefore believes that that there is much more to be obtained by extending co-operation and sharing resources with like-minded, local schools. The proposed Trust has the potential to extend this concept on a more formal basis and to provide greater benefits.
Both the Diocese of Exeter and the Director of Education for Church Schools, John Searson, are keen for Chagford Church of England School to form meaningful collaborations with schools within the local geographical area. They also fully support our school pursuing this particular proposal to improve opportunities and educational standards for our pupils.
However, by entering into such an arrangement, the school will become part of a much larger organisation. Inevitably, this carries with it the concern that our school could lose some of its autonomy, which could dilute the locally focused ethos that helps to make it unique.
The ‘bigger picture’ and the alternative to ‘academisation’
At a national level, although central government has relaxed the programme which would have required all schools to join academies, there remains a strong intention that the majority of schools will be academised by 2022. There is continuing pressure on the funding of education in Devon and the viability of smaller primary schools is under threat.
Against this backdrop, the governors have to consider how our school would operate if we did not join an academy. If, as seems likely, academisation is to become inevitable, it may be better to seek to join an academy of our choice and in our own timing. The alternative of being forced to join an academy, not of our choosing, at a later date is unappealing. The prospect of remaining maintained by the Local Authority but becoming increasingly isolated with reduced support (given that the Dartmoor Community Learning Trust will no longer exist) also carries significant risk to viability.
The governors have therefore expressed an interest in becoming a member of the Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust. This Trust will involve schools from the existing Dartmoor Cooperative Learning Trust and Okehampton College. The latter is significant, given that we are one of its feeder schools and cross-phase collaboration is already happening.
Our approach to the Trust proposal
The Headteacher and governors have attended a number of meetings at which the shape and operation of the Trust have been discussed. By being included, we are able to play a significant part in such discussions. In this way we can influence the development of the trust to ensure that the organisation is likely to meet the unique needs of our school, both now and for the future.
At this stage, we are optimistic that the discussions will be fruitful. Currently, there is government funding for legal and other advice as to both the structure of the organisation and the process of conversion and it makes sense to take advantage of this while it remains available.
However, we would emphasise that no decision has yet been taken to commit. The governors and the Headteacher intend to continue with the discussions and ensure that all aspects – both of benefit and of potential concern – are addressed. The governors will not proceed with the conversion unless they are fully satisfied with the final structure.
Your views are important.
The final decision will be very important for the future of pre-school and primary education in Chagford for the foreseeable future. It is essential that the views of parents are taken fully into account. We will be planning consultation events and would encourage you all to participate in these, or to raise any questions that you have with Sheila Mead, Chair of Governors or Liz Wiseman, Headteacher, as soon as possible so that these can be taken into account.
The governors of Chagford Church of England Primary School are pleased to announce that we are working with a number of our neighbouring schools on the possibility of forming a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT). A MAT is a group of schools that work together in a formal arrangement. All schools within a MAT are governed by a single board of trustees. The board of trustees is responsible for decisions relating to how each school is run but there will still be a local governing body who will monitor and challenge the quality of education in each school.
It is envisaged that the Trust will consist of the following schools and Federations.
- Chagford C of E Primary School
- Crediton – QE Academy Trust
- Dartmoor Federation
- Okehampton College
- Boasley Cross Primary School
- Bridestowe Primary School
- Exbourne C of E Primary School
- Northlew and Ashbury C of E Primary School
- Holsworthy Federation
- Holsworthy College
- Black Torrington C of E Primary School
- Bradford Primary School
- Bridgerule C of E Primary School
- North Tawton Community Primary School
- Okehampton Primary School
- South Tawton Primary School
- Tavistock College
Why are we doing this?
We believe that to ensure that all our children continue to receive the best possible educational opportunities we must partner with like-minded schools. Similarly, if we are going to attract the best and develop our existing staff we must be part of a larger educational community. Traditionally we would have looked to our local education authority to provide such challenge, advice and support. However, with continued local authority cut backs and the diversion of funding directly into schools this service is becoming more and more problematic. Our experience of local informal partnerships to date has been encouraging and we have already joined the Dartmoor Teaching Schools Alliance based around Okehampton College. We therefore see the formalising of our partnership arrangements as being the next logical step. Furthermore we believe that by proactively choosing and forming the structure and ethos of the partnership we can ensure that our local community, for both today and tomorrow, is best served.
What is being proposed?
We are considering that our school becomes an Academy School within a Multi-Academy Trust. An Academy School is no different in appearance to a Local Authority Maintained School (LA). Both types of school receive its funding from central government. For a LA school, funds are routed first to the LA who can retain an amount to fund its central services. For an Academy, the same funds are sent directly to the school who can then decide how all the monies are spent to best effect. A MAT is a group of Academy Schools that work under a single governing board. It is legally a charity and so cannot be run for profit. All funds received must be used for the benefits of the children it serves.
We believe that this autonomy will allow us to direct resources in the best and most effective way to benefit our children.
What is our vision?
We intend to call the Trust the Dartmoor Multi-Academy Trust. Our vision for the Trust is that:
- It will provide the highest possible quality of education for all our local children. This will be cross phase; from pre-school to age 19.
- It will have a co-operative ethos.
- Education should be community based, inclusive and will respect and retain the ethos of each school including church schools.
- Be an underpinned top quality Teaching School (The Dartmoor Teaching School); we intend to have a strong capability to develop all our staff. All schools in the MAT will be part of the Teaching School Alliance.
- It will develop high quality cross-phase teaching.
- It will mirror existing staff terms and conditions and will recognise from the outset the importance of retaining and attracting staff of the highest calibre
- We believe in the benefits to the community of local schools and would therefore always attempt to maintain rural schools subject to their viability
What would the local structure look like?
Locally there will be very little change. Schools will still retain their individual names and uniform policies. There will still be a Head on-site responsible for the day to day running of the school. There will still be a local governing body who will monitor and challenge the quality of educational provision in the school.
The difference is that in future individual schools will be supported by the Dartmoor MAT’s board of Trustees. These Trustees will have legal responsibility for monitoring the quality of education across the schools in the MAT and ensuring the appropriate resources are made available. As part of the process for setting up the MAT the organisational structure and who is responsible for what (called a Scheme of Delegation) will be defined in detail.
However the basic principles of the board will be:
- If a school is successful and viable; to leave it alone to run itself.
- If a school is struggling; to use the resources and expertise in the MAT to support that school.
- Ensure that staff have the knowledge and resources to provide high quality education. (Teachers should not be having to spend time fixing leaking roofs.)
What are the next steps?
All the schools have “expressed an interest” to form the MAT with the local office of the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC). It is the RSC who will ensure that our proposals will work and will eventually decide if the MAT can go ahead. Our next step is to submit a formal application to the RSC. This outlines in more detail the governance structure of the MAT and provides basic information about each school. If the application is approved each school receives a one-off grant to cover the admin and legal cost involved in converting from a LA controlled school to an Academy.
Part of this process will be us consulting with parents, staff and other stakeholders. We intend this is be in the form of written briefs and open meetings for example. Please look out for them.
We hope to have our application accepted by Easter. The conversion process can then take typically six months. At the end, the MAT is formally created and all sign a funding agreement directly with the Department of Education. Although we believe this is the way forward for our school no final decision has been taken and the governors can decide to pull out at any point up to this funding agreement being signed. Rest assured we will not sign unless we are convinced that doing so is in the best interest of our current and future children.
Have you any questions?
As we move through the conversion process we intend to issue regular updates. Open consultation meetings will be held. However if you have any immediate questions please put them to me, in writing, via the school office.
Sheila Mead, Chair of the Governors
Liz Wiseman, Headteacher