Academy Consultation

Please click here to access a copy of the presentation from the meetings on 2nd March 2020. You can view a copy of the minutes of the morning meeting here and the evening meeting here.  

As the Governing Board at Woodcote Primary we have been exploring the potential benefits joining a Multi Academy Trust (MAT) could bring to our school for some time.

Historically, schools that have been underperforming have been forced to join a MAT with the aim of improving their results. This is now no longer the case and in fact many ‘Outstanding’ schools such as ourselves have elected to join a MAT for the opportunities it can bring to their staff and pupils.  We have seen this happen with other Croydon schools including Keston in Old Coulsdon a ‘Good’ school which voluntarily joined a MAT last year.

After careful consideration we believe the time is right for Woodcote Primary to voluntarily join a MAT for the following reasons:

  • Sharing of best practice and ideas in education to drive better outcomes for all our children;
  • The opportunity for staff development and continuous learning which would be highly motivating for our staff;
  • Greater support for our school leadership team meaning they would spend less time on administration and more time teaching and focussing on the children. Particularly with the expansion to four form entry we have seen an increase in the volume of administrative work;
  • Collaboration which improves classroom practice that ultimately benefits all of our pupils.

Governors and staff have been through an extensive process to help identify the right potential MAT for us to join, which included school visits and presentations from a variety of different MATs. As part of this process it was extremely important to us to find a partner that shared our school’s values and that will allow us to keep our identity as Woodcote Primary.

The trust we have decided to potentially join is The Pioneer Academy and the Governing Board have made a decision in principle to join from 1st July 2020 or as soon as possible afterwards subject to due diligence. The due diligence process includes a consultation about whether Woodcote Primary School should become an academy within The Pioneer Academy with parents, staff and other local stakeholders. The Governing Board will consider all responses to the consultation.

The consultation runs until Friday 27th March 2020 – please have your say!

The ethos of both Woodcote Primary School and The Pioneer Academy is that children come first, with learning at the centre of everything.

The Pioneer Academy is well established and has a track record of success. It was established by Stewart Fleming Primary School in 2011, and Belvedere Junior School joined in April 2013. It has grown steadily and sensibly and now includes ten schools, with ourselves potentially joining in July 2020. The Pioneer Academy only includes primary phase schools – 6 primary, 2 junior and 2 infant school currently. All Ofsted inspections undertaken more than a year within The Pioneer Academy have improved, including for schools that had previous weaknesses. This has been achieved through a relentless focus upon children, through high quality and committed staff, and through the schools working in partnership to improve practice in every aspect of school life.

What would happen if Woodcote Primary School does join The Pioneer Academy?

If Woodcote Primary School does convert to academy status and join The Pioneer Academy, Woodcote Primary School would:

  • Keep the name ‘Woodcote Primary School’;
  • Keep the same school day and the same school uniform;
  • Continue to have 52 part time places in nursery and 120 places in Reception each year;
  • Benefit from increased opportunities for staff across The Pioneer Academy to work together to develop and share good practice, undertake staff development, build expertise to support groups of pupils with particular needs, and enhance resilience to staff changes.

Two areas that would change are:

  • The school holidays at Woodcote Primary School would align with those at the other schools within The Pioneer Academy from September 2021, with the school matching the pattern of the other schools with the autumn term starting immediately after the August bank holiday and including a two week October half-term; and
  • The admissions over-subscription criteria for Reception entry would remain as now with the exception that The Pioneer Academy would propose adding a ‘children of staff’’ criteria. This would need to be consulted upon in autumn 2020, and would – if approved – take effect for Reception entry in September 2022 onwards.

What is an academy and how is it different?

An academy is an independent state school, funded directly from central government rather than through Croydon Council. An academy has several differences from a community school, including:

  • Being responsible for its own admissions policy;
  • Being responsible for its land and buildings;
  • Having freedom from the requirement to follow the National Curriculum; and
  • Being the employer of its staff.

The Pioneer Academy will use its experience to ensure that Woodcote gains the most advantage from being an academy.

The Board of Trustees of The Pioneer Academy is responsible for all the schools within the Trust. School Boards provide local governance, and support and challenge to the Headteacher and leadership team, and include parents and staff. For Woodcote Primary, the School Board would be formed from the current Governing Body.

Where can I find further information? How can I have my say?

More detailed Questions and Answers are available on the Woodcote website (www.woodcoteprimary.croydon.sch.uk) or from the school office. Further information about academies is also available on the DfE website (www.education.gov.uk/academies).

You can have your say by:

  • Emailing your views to governors@woodcoteprimary.croydon.sch.uk – Governors would particularly welcome your views about what you think the advantages of joining The Pioneer Academy would be, any concerns that you might have, and any areas that you would welcome further information about.
  • Meetings for current or future parents: Monday 2nd March 2020 at 9am or 7pm at Woodcote Primary School.

Staff at Woodcote and other local stakeholders are also being consulted.

The consultation closes on Friday 27th March 2020. Please have your say – your views are really important to us!

Woodcote Primary School and  The Pioneer Academy

Academy Conversion Questions and Answers

 

This document has been issued by Woodcote Primary School and The Pioneer Academy as part of the consultation about whether Woodcote Primary School should convert to academy status within The Pioneer Academy.

Why has this proposal been put forward?

1.       Why is Woodcote Primary School considering converting to academy status?

The primary focus of every school is on providing the highest possible quality education to its pupils. Governors believe that being part of a primary-school multi-academy trust would provide benefits to staff and pupils in terms of sharing best practice, joint curriculum and staff development, a broader range of staff expertise, and more resilience within the staffing structure.

2.       Why is The Pioneer Academy wanting to work with Woodcote Primary School?

The Pioneer Academy is a primary-phase multi-academy trust. It currently includes ten primary phase schools (six primary, two junior and two infants), with ourselves potentially joining in July 2020.

The Pioneer Academy has a strong moral purpose to raise achievement and attainment in all of the schools that it works with. It has established a track record of rapid and sustainable improvement in schools, through a combination of strong leadership, effective curriculum, high quality teaching, and rigorous planning and tracking.

The Pioneer Academy Trust ‘Mantra’ places ‘children first’ and promotes our motto; ’Safe – Happy – Learning’. The Pioneer Academy adopts the acronym P RACES:

  • Positivity – Staff have a responsibility to be positive in their relationships with pupils and supportive of each other.
  • Rigour – We have a responsibility to ensure every moment a child is in our school will be spent productively. Through thorough use of evidence we will enable all children to make excellent progress.
  • Aspiration – Our motto is; ‘Safe – Happy – Learning’. All members of staff aim to promote an extraordinary school day to develop independence and creativity.
  • Commitment – We put children first.
  • Energy – Staff are prepared to go the extra mile to provide the best possible education for their pupils. Our aim should always be to provide for the pupils of our school an educational experience, that we would want for our own children.
  • Standards – We will maintain a relentless focus on raising standards so that all pupils have opportunities to achieve their full potential. We expect all staff to maintain the highest possible standards at all times.

What is an academy?

3.       What is an Academy?

An Academy is an independent state school, funded directly from central government rather than through a local authority. A charitable company limited by guarantee (the Academy Trust) is responsible for the academy, and the Academy Trust signs the Funding Agreement (the contract) with the Secretary of State as part of the establishment of the academy.

Legislation requires that an academy has the following characteristics:

  • That it offers a balanced and broadly based curriculum;
  • That it provides education for pupils of different abilities; and
  • That it provides education for pupils who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which the school is situated

4.       How is an academy different from a community school?

An academy has several differences to a community school, including:

  • Admissions – an academy is responsible for setting and implementing its admissions policy and for prioritising applications. An academy must continue to operate within the requirements of the national School Admissions Code in the same way as maintained schools, including full participation in the local coordinated admissions scheme administered by the local authority;
  • Land and Buildings – the land and buildings of the school are leased to the Academy Trust for 125 years at a peppercorn rent from the Local Authority and the academy would be responsible for the land and buildings (and reliant on the Secretary of State for capital funding);
  • Curriculum – an academy has to offer a broad and balanced curriculum for pupils of differing abilities, including Maths, English, and Science, but it does not have to follow the National Curriculum; the Funding Agreement requires that an academy teaches Religious Education;
  • Employment – the Academy Trust becomes the employer of school staff, rather than the local authority. Academies also have freedom to set new terms and conditions for future staff;
  • Funding – the academy receives its existing school budget and also its share of the funding that is retained by the local authority for maintained schools; and
  • Governance – The Pioneer Academy (which is a charitable company) would be responsible for all the schools within the Trust. School Boards provide local governance, and support and challenge to the Headteacher and leadership team, and include parents and staff. For Woodcote Primary, the School Board would be formed from the current Governing Body.

Some of these responsibilities are already held by Foundation and Voluntary-Aided Schools – Voluntary-Aided schools, for instance, are already responsible for their admissions, own their land and buildings (often through a Diocese) and employ their staff directly.

The Pioneer Academy is a multi-academy trust. This means that a single academy trust is responsible for several schools, who work together in close partnership to improve outcomes for pupils at all of the schools. Being part of The Pioneer Academy provides access to a greater range of staffing expertise, provides greater resilience in staffing if staff are ill, on maternity leave or change job, provides more career development and training opportunities, and enables greater sustainability.

5.       Does Ofsted inspect academies?

Yes, in exactly the same way as for maintained schools.

6.       How can the Secretary of State intervene in an academy?

The Secretary of State has the ability to terminate the Funding Agreement for each of the schools within the Academy Trust if specified situations, predominantly if a school is eligible for ‘special measures’ or ‘requires significant improvement’ following an Ofsted inspection, student performance unacceptably low, there has been a serious breakdown in the governance or management of the academy, or the safety of pupils or staff is threatened. In this situation the Secretary of State would be able to enter into a Funding Agreement with another Academy Trust to take over the governance and management of the academy.

Academy governance

7.       How would the academy be governed?

The Pioneer Academy is already an Academy Trust. The Academy Trust signs a Funding Agreement (the contract) with the Secretary of State for each school within the Academy Trust.

The Pioneer Academy has a Board of Trustees that would be legally responsible for the schools within the Trust (technically they are the legal Governing Body for each school).

School Boards provide local governance, and support and challenge to the Headteacher and leadership team, and include parents and staff. For Woodcote Primary, the School Board would be formed from the current Governing Body.

An Academy Trust also has a small number of Members. These Members have a similar role to ‘shareholders’ in a private company limited by shares, with the ability to appoint some of the Trustees.

8.       How would parents become part of the School Board?

The same process as for the school currently. When there is a vacancy, applications are sought from the parents at the school, which may outline particular skill sets that would be useful to the School Board. If there are the same number or fewer applications than vacancies then those individuals who applied are appointed. If there are more applications than vacancies, the parents vote to decide who becomes a governor.

Academy funding and services

9.       Do academies receive extra funding?

Academies receive their funding direct from the Government rather than via their local authority. The budget is calculated in the same way as now, with a few (fairly small) technical changes for areas such as rates. The academy financial year runs from September to August.

Academy policies

10.   Would there be changes to the number of pupils admitted into the school?

It is not expected that the number of places at Woodcote Primary School would change – there would continue to be 52 part time places in Nursery and 120 places in Reception each year.

11.   Would there be changes to the admissions over-subscription criteria?

The criteria used to determine applications for Nursery would not change.

The criteria used to determine applications for Reception (the over-subscription criteria that apply if there are more applications than places) would remain the same for Reception entry in September 2020 and September 2021. For September 2022 and subsequent years, The Pioneer Academy proposes to include a ‘children of staff’ criteria – this would need to be consulted upon in autumn 2020 and then a decision made in early 2021.

Educational implications

12.   What are the safeguards for vulnerable pupils?

Under the terms of the Funding Agreement (which is the contract between the Academy Trust and the Secretary of State), an academy has to act in exactly the same way as a maintained school in relation to Special Education Needs, behaviour, and exclusions. The Pioneer Academy has an excellent track record of provision for vulnerable pupils.

13.   Who is responsible for deciding if a student needs a Statement of special educational needs or an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan?

The local authority would retain the legal responsibility for leading these processes, and for determining whether Woodcote is named on the EHC/Statement.

Land and buildings

14.   What happens to the land of Woodcote Primary School?

As a community school, the land is currently owned by Croydon Council, who would grant a lease to the Academy Trust. The local authority would retain the freehold title to the land. The Academy Trust would become responsible for the land and buildings in accordance with the lease.

15.   How does an academy access capital funding?

Academies receive some capital funding, called Devolved Formula Capital, according to the same methodology as maintained schools. This funding is provided directly to the academy.  Whereas Woodcote Primary School currently relies on the local authority for funding for more substantial works, whether these are for repair / maintenance or for improvements, academies are generally reliant on central government.

What could change in the future?

16.   What could change in the future?

If Woodcote remains as a maintained school, changes in the future could originate from central government, the London Borough of Croydon, or the Governing Body. The Governing Body already has the powers to propose changes to the school day or year, curriculum, or how the budget is spent. Croydon Council could propose changes to the admissions number and policy, and support staff terms and conditions.

If Woodcote Primary School converts to academy status, The Pioneer Academy could propose changes in the future. Many of these changes would require formal consultation with parents and / or staff and their Unions. The Governors could decide some changes, while others would require the agreement of the Secretary of State. At all times, and on all issues, the Trustees’ are required to act in the best interests of the academy.

Consultation process

17.   Who is being consulted?

The consultation has been issued to parents and staff at Woodcote Primary School, Croydon Council, local primary schools, the local MP, and the Trade Unions recognised by Croydon Council.

18.   Where can I find further information? How can I have my say?

Further information about academies is also available on the DfE website (www.education.gov.uk/academies).

You can have your say by:

  • Emailing your views to governors@woodcoteprimary.croydon.sch.uk – Governors would particularly welcome your views about what you think the advantages of joining The Pioneer Academy would be, any concerns that you might have, and any areas that you would welcome further information about.
  • Meetings for current or future parents: Monday 2nd March 2020 at 9am or 7pm at Woodcote Primary School.

Staff at Woodcote and other local stakeholders are also being consulted.

The consultation closes on Friday 27th March 2020.

19.   Will the Governors’ listen to the views from the consultation?

Yes, every response will be considered. Responses might include arguments for and against Woodcote’s conversion and / or the choice of The Pioneer Academy as the academy trust to join, as well as questions or concerns about conversion.

Woodcote Primary School & The Pioneer Academy

Responses to questions regarding academisation from Parents, Carers and Staff

March 2020

1.       What prompted the Woodcote Governing Board to review academy status again?

As a Governing Board we have been looking at whether we should form or join a MAT for the past few years. Parents, carers and staff have been advised at various points about this. In the beginning this was driven by the government at the time directing that all schools should become part of a MAT, however the most recent impetus was driven by the following factors.

  1. The majority of Croydon Schools are Academies and this means, in part also due to LA funding cuts generally, the LA lack the capacity to provide the same level of support to schools as previously.
  2. Other schools are increasingly formally joining MATs and this is resulting in them prioritising working with schools in their own MAT as opposed to the local cluster e.g. PACE – Chipstead Valley & Keston.
  3. The commitment to full collaboration between schools is guaranteed by formally joining a MAT as opposed to informal working arrangements where experience has shown commitment is often sketchy and not 100%.
  4. The financial benefits of centralised services (e.g. HR, IT, facilities) across a large group of schools can only be achieved through a formal arrangement and not through loose collaboration or federation

In addition, Governors received feedback from the senior team that our staff and pupils could benefit from greater collaboration to help provide more opportunities and better outcomes for all.

2.       What process was taken to decide this was the best route for Woodcote Primary?

One of the first things we did as Governors when we decided to review the MAT route again was to set out the criteria that we felt are most important to our school in terms of selecting a potential partner. We are incredibly proud of our school and what we continue to achieve but we want to push ourselves to be better, to help our pupils and staff be the best they can be.

These criteria helped us to select MATs to work with to see if they are right for us. Some of the most important criteria are maintaining our school values and ethos, our identity, a local presence and a focus on Primary education to maximise the opportunities for shared best practice. We also wanted to identify a trust with a reputation for working with OFSTED ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ schools.

3.       How many Academies were considered as part of this process?

After considering the criteria we agreed a shortlist of three different MATs to discuss joining in more detail – GLF, with 40 schools; Pioneer, with 10 schools; PACE, with 5 schools (including Keston and Chipstead Valley).

Governors developed a detailed questionnaire based on criteria we believe are important to Woodcote Primary and each MAT was invited to respond. Staff and governors then visited schools within each trust to see the experience of staff and children within the schools for themselves. Finally, each trust was then invited to make a presentation to governors to explain what they could offer to Woodcote Primary.

Governors then discussed observations from the visits and presentations to decide upon a preferred trust.

The Governing Body have made a decision in principle to join the Pioneer Academy Trust and this has triggered our mutual due diligence stage which includes the consultation with parents, carers and staff and also the external scrutiny of the Regional Schools Commissioner who would have to approve any transfer.

4.       What is Mr Rome’s involvement with The Pioneer Academy?

First, let us be clear that Mr Rome is a Woodcote Primary full-time employee until his retirement this summer.

Since 2016, Woodcote Governors have encouraged the secondment of Mr Rome, on a part time basis, providing either Executive Headteacher Consultancy or School Improvement Services to several other schools, Croydon Council (Octavo), Lambeth Council and as an OFSTED Inspector.

Woodcote has recharged for Mr Rome’s services so all income has directly benefitted the school (generating a profit) and this has allowed us to progressively enhance Woodcote’s Middle & Senior Leadership Team for succession planning and to be in a position where Mr Rome’s retirement can be accommodated and ensure the continued smooth running of the school.

Since 2018 Mr Rome has been supporting The Crescent Primary School in Selhurst where James Collins (Woodcote Primary’s former Chair of Governors) is also Chair of Governors.  The Crescent last year undertook an exercise to select and join a MAT and became part of The Pioneer Academy Trust in Sept 2019. The Pioneer Trust then requested Mr Rome continue to support The Crescent and other Pioneer Schools as a part time Regional Director.

Due to Mr Rome’s and Mr Collins’ involvement with the Pioneer Trust is was agreed that neither would vote on the Governing Board decision to select a MAT.

5.Will Mr Rome benefit financially from Woodcote Primary joining The Pioneer Academy?

Absolutely not. The decision to join a MAT, and the Pioneer Trust specifically has been driven by a desire for us to benefit from collaboration and support to help our staff and pupils be the best they can be. This decision is about the future of our school and better outcomes for all.

6. Are there other opportunities for the school to benefit from teaching best practice without joining a MAT, joining a federation for example?

We have seen the benefit working with other schools can bring to us by working as part of the Coulsdon

Cluster however other schools such as Keston and Chipstead Valley have formally joined a MAT and this

has resulted in them prioritising their own MAT as opposed to the local cluster. Other schools in the

locality are also in other MATs and often have to prioritise their work for them.

The commitment to full collaboration between schools is guaranteed by formally joining a MAT as

opposed to informal working arrangements where experience has shown commitment is often sketchy

and not 100%.

We can see the benefits centralising some services and practices can give our school in terms of reducing admin pressures on teaching staff. The financial benefits of centralised services across a large group of schools can only be achieved through a formal arrangement and not through loose collaboration or federation.

7. Is academisation going to be time consuming for staff? Will it distract teachers from looking after our children?

Of course academisation will require changes, but we are confident that The Pioneer Trust will help minimise the impact on our school as much as possible. We and The Pioneer Trust don’t want to do anything that will disrupt our children’s learning and want to make the process as smooth as possible.

8. If we choose to join an academy is there an option to go back to being run by the local authority?

No, once we elect to become part of a MAT we are unable to return to LA control.  If the MAT were in future to underperform then the Regional Schools Director would broker a transfer to another MAT.

9. There is a lot of negative media coverage about academy trusts, surely we are better off on our own?

There has been some high-level media exposure of financial irregularities by some MATs and much of the media coverage is sensationalist.  These are rare and their exposure is due in a large part to the financial regulations MATs must comply with such as publishing accounts with Companies House and having detailed audit reports and procedures.  As part of our due diligence we will be examining The Pioneer Trusts financial records extensively.

It has become increasingly apparent to the Governing Board that even a large and Outstanding school like Woodcote, which in the short term could continue as a Local Authority school, over the longer term will come increasingly isolated as LA support continues to be marginalized and other local schools gradually all become Academies and join MAT’s.  We feel the time is now right to be proactive and choose to join a MAT to join rather than eventually be placed/brokered into a MAT by the Regional Schools Commissioner – the likely outcome for all standalone schools over the next few years.

10. Aren’t academies ways for chief executives and other staff to pay themselves big salaries while taking away from the budget for children’s learning?

Absolutely not. Trusts are fully accountable for how the funding they receive is spent – this is public money after all. The motivation for the proposed move to a MAT is to enhance our children’s learning and more effectively use the funding we receive.

MATs are required to abide by the Academies Financial Handbook which requires more scrutiny than LA schools.  The Pioneer Academy is required to have internal audits conducted annually at each school to ensure that the Handbook is adhered to, and the MAT is required to be externally audited as well.  Any issues at either of these audits are reported to the ESFA (Education Skills Funding Agency) who can conduct further inspections if they feel this is necessary.  Furthermore, the ESFA publishes a list of MATs paying high salaries which can be accessed; you will see that The Pioneer Academy do not appear on this list.

11. Will less funding per pupil be received/spent by being part of a MAT?

We will still receive the same funding per pupil but directly from the Educational Funding Agency to the MAT.  The amount of costs taken by teaching & other staff will remain the same. We will be paying an administrative fee to The Pioneer Trust but this will be offset by the savings generated from the use of centralised services e.g. HR, IT and contracts across all the schools in the MAT and we will no longer be paying a percentage to the Local Authority. We will be scrutinizing this as part of our due diligence process. The benefits to our pupils of better collaboration and best practice are hard to quantify, but these should also be considered.

The Pioneer Trust has a very good track record of bidding for additional capital funding from the DfE for large projects like Roof and Boiler replacements. It is worth noting that that we have been very fortunate at Woodcote to have had circa £6million spent on our site by the LA over the last 6 years and this is unlikely to be repeated.

12. What other stakeholders are being consulted?

As well as parents, carers and staff, the Local Authority have been informed of Woodcote Primary Governing Board’s decision in principle and an application has been made to the Headteachers Board of the Regional School Commissioner who externally scrutinise such a transition and give their approval or not.

13. Does joining an academy mean we will risk our SEND provision?

As Woodcote Primary we have an excellent SEND provision that we are extremely proud of. There is no reason for this to change and we will stipulate in any agreement we make with The Pioneer Trust that it should be protected.

All Pioneer schools have effective SEND teams who work closely with children and parents to ensure the very best outcomes for SEND children – these school teams are supported by a central SEND executive (Head of Pupil Welfare). Most Pioneer schools have additional SEND departments, such as Nurture or Enhanced Learning Provisions.

14. While there are there are some outstanding schools in The Pioneer Trust aren’t there also some that OFSTED says “requires improvement”, one is “inadequate”. Isn’t this going to put additional strain on our current staff rather than help us?

No. Senior leaders from our school already provide support to other schools within the LA which require improvement and by joining The Pioneer Trust we’re not going to see this increaseOur staff will benefit from greater opportunities for continual professional development (CPD) and better collaboration from peers outside of Woodcote Primary.

The Pioneer Academy does have some schools that have previously received an Inadequate judgement (before joining TPA) but these are awaiting OFSTED inspections.  At each of the OFSTED inspections that schools within The Pioneer Academy have had, they have all improved. The OFSTED grades for The Pioneer Academy schools are:

2 x Outstanding

2x Good with Outstanding features

3x Good

1x Requires Improvement with Good features

2x Waiting to be inspected after sponsorship

15. Will we still have an effective Governing Board once we join a MAT?

It’s true that a degree of decision making on budget and certain school policies will be made at Trust Board level, but The Pioneer Trust operate Local Governing Boards.  Our existing Governing Board will transfer onto the Local Board and still have a strong voice to contribute to key decisions.  As part of our due diligence process we will be identifying any key areas where we wish to negotiate that Woodcote will be able to retain its own earned autonomy.

16. I can’t attend the meeting on Monday, how can I make my views heard?

We welcome feedback via email via governors@woodcoteprimary.croydon.sch.uk. We are publishing the answers to questions we have had from parents, carers and staff on the website and will include any presentations made at the forthcoming public meeting. Based on the level and type of questions/feedback we will re-assess the need for another meeting if applicable.