Last week I visited three schools in and around Tiverton in Devon. What was interesting about them was that they had come together as a Federation.
Wilcombe, in Tiverton, was the lead school, looking for partners to join them. As I understand it, a speed-dating event was organised and Sampford Peverill and Hemyock liked the idea and they decided to get hitched.
They are some thirteen miles apart, but much further apart in their catchment areas. Wilcombe is a town school in the middle of a large estate, Sampford Peverill is a victorian, village church school with masses of portacabin classsrooms in the yard and Hemyock is a largish, eighties-ish village school.
They share an Executive Head, who does all the business and finds the money, while his centralised office team buy in bulk and spread costs of payroll and administration.
Each school then has a Head of Learning, whose role is like head teachers of old – the education and pastoral care of the children, without the constant nagging and pressure from the education authorities above them that most heads have to put up with today.
The schools are all linked up with videoconference equipment. Everyone seems really enthusiastic about the situation. In fact, I’d say there is a real buzz in these three school. There is a palpable feeling of care and a new found passion for teaching rather than meeting targets.
Teaching staff and expertise can be shared across the three schools allowing teachers to expand their specialities. Everyone said how great it was to have others to share knowledge and experience with.
These schools are setting a brilliant example to others. As far as education cuts are concerned, they’ve done it already and are way ahead of the pack.
I know other schools are fearful of the future and really quite scared of the idea of federation, but from my experience last week, I’d say go for it. This has to be the future of primary schools in this country as support is pulled away from above.
Small schools must be finding it harder and harder to keep up. With federation, they could cut costs, broaden their children’s (and teachers) horizons and broaden what they can offer too.
Thanks for a great couple of days and best of luck with the future of this exciting project.