Striving for excellence: Wootton Academy Trust considers innovative collaboration plans 

As part of an ongoing quest to improve the quality of teaching and learning at its educational institutions, Wootton Academy Trust is considering ambitious plans to become part of Sharnbrook Academy Federation’s Multi Academy Trust (MAT).

This is the beginning of an exciting journey for the Trust which could see Wootton Upper School and Kimberley College working in conjunction with a host of educational partners in the future to offer the highest standard of teaching and learning to pupils to encourage them to fulfil their limitless potential.

This vision aligns with the Government’s view that inter-school collaboration offers rapid and sustainable educational improvement; providing a platform for teachers to learn and support one another while developing localised solutions to challenges.

The Trust believes that by working together within a larger family of schools, the opportunity exists to foster a more supportive, resource-driven and progressive environment for pupils while improving performance management systems and delivering greater economies of scale.

A consultation exercise is now underway to consider the feasibility of the model and gather the views of interested parties including parents/carers, staff and stakeholders. 

If you have any questions regarding these proposals, please contact the dedicated response service on Tel: 07761 236684 or MAT@wootton.beds.sch.uk. Calls to the individual schools may block the switchboard. Your support is appreciated.

Due diligence* - a term used to describe the rigorous steps taken by a company (e.g. Sharnbrook Academy Federation) to establish the assets and liabilities of another company (e.g. Wootton Academy Trust) and evaluate its commercial potential. In this instance both WAT and SAF would undertake due diligence on each other.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Multi Academy Trust?

A Multi Academy Trust (MAT) is where a group of schools is governed through a single set of members and directors. There are two forms of multi-academy trust:

  • the group may be an existing academy chain which a school elects to join or which sponsors a school
  • a number of schools come together to set up a new multi-academy trust with remit, governance and so on decided collectively.

NB

WAT is a MAT, but it has just two schools Wootton Upper School and Kimberley College. MATs which have more schools are better able to share good practice and thereby learn from each other and also secure economies of scale.

Why are you considering joining the MAT?

Everything we do is designed to enhance our students’ education, providing added value and additional benefits.

In considering this potential collaboration, the trustees have been very mindful of government policy and our Regional Schools Commissioner Vision Statement that schools should be working together in wider groupings of schools as a lever to drive up standards.

We believe it will help us to drive up standards further. We are already making good progress as individual schools and this was recognised in the Wootton monitoring visit. The opportunity for Subject Leaders to work together on curriculum development, teaching pedagogy and invaluable. Similarly, a MAT can look quickly at the standards being achieved in all of its schools and if one school’s is doing much better than the others share that best practice, or conversely, if one school is doing less well, intervene quickly to put things right. Individual schools or small MATS do not have this advantage.

What are the governance arrangements in a MAT?

A MAT is run by a trust board of directors – usually up to twelve individuals - who control all schools in the MAT. Normally, these directors are non-executive directors (unpaid individuals with appropriate skill sets). They are supported by a Chief Executive Officer and a Finance Director who are employed by the Trust.

The Sharnbrook Academy Federation MAT Board will concentrate on three key areas:

  • Standards -           the outcomes achieved by students
  • Finance -           ensuring that all the funds the MAT has are spent appropriately   and secure best value for the best interests of students in all schools within the MAT.
  • Strategy -  the ‘big long-term decisions’ that take account of government policy and local need – all with our students’ interests at the very heart

Each school/college in the MAT has its own local governing body.

The Local Governing Body provides challenge and support to Principal and the Leadership Team of the school/college. It is responsible for reviewing the school’s curriculum, Special Educational Needs, the appointment of staff – although the MAT would wish to be involved in the appointment of the most senior leaders such as a new Principal, monitoring the quality of teaching and learning, reviewing internal assessments and, much more.  The Local Governing Body would have a clear scheme of delegation indicating what it was accountable for.

Who is the employer of the staff in schools operated within a MAT? What happens to pay and conditions including pensions?

The MAT is the employer; therefore, employees of Wootton Academy Trust would become employees of the new MAT, if the merger goes ahead. There are strict rules about how this work and the new MAT has to abide by TUPE arrangements. TUPE is a piece of legislation designed to protect the rights of employees who may be subject to a change in the legal identity of their employer. These regulations set out that employee terms and conditions such as pay, pension and policies are protected at the point of transfer and the MAT inherits all rights, liabilities and obligations in relation to them.      

SAF staff are all on standard terms and conditions so if the transfer goes ahead current WAT staff terms and conditions would not change. Teaching staff would still have access to the Teachers Pensions Scheme and Support Staff to the Local Government Pension Scheme.

When will a final decision be made?

The final decision will be taken after due diligence is completed and regulatory approval obtained. Due diligence is a comprehensive and robust process to ensure both parties are fully prepared for joining together and working as one organisation.

Before WAT could join another MAT, that MAT would want to ensure that WAT is in a strong, healthy position. They will do that be looking at a whole range of documentation including WAT’s financial position, its other assets – including the conditions of the buildings and land as well as the standards of education being delivered in WAT schools.

There has to be consultation with local stakeholders including parents of children who currently attend WAT schools and those who will attend them in the future, as well as with staff and others.

A formal business case will need to be prepared and submitted to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) setting out details of the proposed conversion to a MAT for approval by the Secretary of State.

If at the end of the process the WAT directors wanted to pursue the merger, they would have to pass a final resolution which the four founding members of the Wootton Academy Trust would then also need to approve. It is very unlikely that any final decision will be made before next summer with the earliest point a merger taking place September 1st 2017. However, it could be later than this date.

How will these discussions affect my child’s school place?

The proposals will not affect any individual current or future student and no action is required of parents regarding their plans for their child’s education as a result of the discussion process. The Trust remains dedicated to ensuring that there is a place available at Wootton and Kimberley for every child of the appropriate age in our admissions area.

Will the proposed MAT have control over individual school budgets?

WAT has always managed its own budget and the auditors and the DfE funding body – the EFA – has been happy with how WAT has done so. Funding will be received from the EFA for WUS & KC directly to the MAT with oversight provided by the MAT Board Finance Committee; if the MAT felt that public funds were not being spent appropriately it could intervene.

The MAT could identify central savings by negotiating contracts for all schools in the MAT which could drive down costs, which would mean there was more money available to be used on education priorities.

What is the likelihood of any of these schools closing as a result of becoming part of a Multi Academy Trust?

None. On the contrary, the MAT will want to discuss strategic developments with other MATs operating in the area, such as school organization and ensuring that there are sufficient places for all children who live in the area in view of the housing expansion in this area, especially in the case in the villages which make up the WAT admissions area. Being part of a larger MAT will help WUS and KC meet these challenges over the next couple of years without any adverse effect on students’ education

What if the school or college felt that its funding was being unfairly allocated to other academies in the MAT?

Each school would have its own budget, based on the number of students in that school/college and individual need. The Education Funding Agency (EFA) would be very unhappy if funding intended for a group of students in one school was directed to another school by the MAT. A MAT might use a greater proportion of its central support team – for example school improvement experts – funded by a contribution a levy, top sliced from all schools’ budgets in the MAT, to support an individual institution more than others to improve standards in the short term. Overtime it is expected that all schools would receive an equal benefit.

What happens to positive and negative balances and what financial benefit will the schools receive?

As one of the three roles of the MAT Board, financial viability of the MAT is of key importance. The management of this in practice means that longer term projects could mean that reserves are accumulated, again all decisions undertaken will have the best interests of students within MAT schools as the key driver. This would be a decision for the MAT board; however, current MATs recognize that it would be unfair to take surpluses from one school to give to another. These surpluses are intended as either rainy-day protection or more likely being set-aside for a project 9such as refurbishment of accommodation)

Can a school maintain its own identity within a MAT? How can you ensure a school’s uniqueness is preserved?

The local governing body can play a key role in ensuring that a school's distinctive character is preserved. The ethos and values of both WAT and SAF are to celebrate the strengths and uniqueness of their schools.

What are the necessary legal arrangements required to become a MAT?

A MAT is a company limited by guarantee and an exempt charity. SAF already exists as a company and therefore there is no need to set up a new company. If the merger goes ahead in the future, it has to secure the approval of the Head Teacher Board under the supervision of the Regional Schools Commissioner, who is part of the Department for Education.

How will standards be monitored under the proposed MAT?

The MAT will look at the standards being achieved in all schools based on examination and assessment outcomes, as well as other data (attendance data, number of exclusions etc.) From this data, the Central MAT team will identify areas that it needs to focus on and then will review those standards by visiting the school in a manner similar to Ofsted. Schools/colleges in the MAT will have very little notice of these reviews. Areas of strength will be celebrated, and areas for development supported from within the MAT. The Chief Executive Officer will report to the MAT board.

Isn’t there a risk that this proposal may destabilise Wootton Upper School and Kimberley 16–19 STEM College?

No. The aim of the proposed merger is to strengthen and improve the academic environment by sharing resources and best practice and delivering outstanding education across all sites. The MAT will not implement any drastic changes affecting any one setting or existing pupils; the goal will be to increase the accessibility to high-quality, outcome-driven teaching across all schools within the MAT, provide high quality Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for all staff thereby allowing them the opportunity to develop their expertise and careers within a larger organisation, increasing staff retention, and to be confident that we will continue to be able to recruit the best staff.

Why would this proposal deliver improvement?

SAF’s new MAT board will focus on three key areas: standards, finance and strategic developments. If WAT goes head with the collaboration, it would create economies of scale which can ultimately be reinvested into improving the educational provision available at the schools and help them to improve standards. 

Under a proposed collaboration, there will be teams of teachers per year group who will be able to share planning and resources and build on each other’s curriculum strengths. All of this can result in a better educational experience for the children and deliver faster progress.

Why has SAF been selected as the best fit for a potential collaboration?

Following exhaustive research and detailed consultation with three prospective MATs, Sharnbrook Academy Federation has been identified as the most viable partner, sharing a similar ethos and vision to WAT. The organisation is a well-known, high-performing trust with a proven track record of delivering results.

Will parents/carers be part of the consultation?

Yes. Parents, staff and stakeholders will be key to the scrutiny stage of these proposals and their feedback will help to inform the final decision. Parents will be able to submit questions about the proposed collaboration on a dedicated telephone number. There will also be a web page providing interested parties with the latest information on the proposals and a FAQ section which will be regularly updated.

Part of the consultation includes WAT’s Annual General Meeting for parents on February 7th in the Theatre Hall at Wootton Upper School. We would encourage parents and other stakeholders to keep this date free and to come along to that meeting. There will be other opportunities for parents/carers to give their views.

WAT is also very keen to gain the views of its current students and the Senior Leadership Teams will be asked to facilitate this.

If you have any queries not answered here, please either email MAT@wootton.beds.sch.uk or call the dedicated hotline on 07761 236684

What will happen to children in Year 4 thinking about moving to a middle school, and what is happening with the current links with Holywell School?

Parents with children in Year 4 are encouraged to look at all of the options for Year 5, be that remaining in a lower school which is converting to primary status or considering a move to a middle school. As parents may express three preferences a combination of requests may be made.

 

Wootton Academy Trust has always been committed to ensuring that there are enough places for children in its feeder middle schools, Holywell and Marston Vale, to come to Wootton Upper School in Year 9. To this end we work very closely with all schools in our pyramid to ensure that this is possible.

 

The school’s point of transfer is into Year 9; the vast majority of children in our admissions area live in villages which have lower and middle schools. None of these lower or middle schools wish to change their age range.  We are confident that whichever MAT is running Wootton Upper School in the future, it will want to retain the commitment to securing admissions for the children that live in our villages.  Therefore, entry to our school will remain Year 9, unless there is a similar change of policy in respect of age range in the other schools in our area

Is Wootton going to become a two tier school?

The MAT running Wootton Upper School in future will wish to consider the implications of the change in age range to two-tier across Bedford Borough schools, except for our pyramid of schools.  Therefore, it is possible that a MAT could consider. for example, two-points of entry, one in Year 7 and another in Year 9. However, there are no plans for this dual point of entry at the current time.

Our current links with Holywell and also with Marston Vale are the bedrock on which Wootton has built its reputation over the last forty years. We meet regularly at governance level together and also at Senior Leadership Level and at department level. We are looking at how we continue to build even closer partnerships. This is because these schools teach most of the children who come to Wootton. We are all committed to retaining and building still further on our strong partnerships with Holywell and Marston Vale. SAF has always enjoyed excellent relationships with the schools that feed Sharnbrook; we are confident that SAF will recognize the crucial importance of our middle school links.

Will teachers would move about between schools?

Lots of Wootton Upper School teachers already move between Wootton Upper School and Kimberley College – where Wootton’s sixth form students are based. Other staff are based only at Wootton or at Kimberley. WAT does not force  staff to teach in more than one school. Both WAT and SAF are employers with lots of experience of recruiting and developing great staff. They understand that really good staff are ambitious and the opportunity to seek career development of outstanding staff by enabling them to move to another school within the MAT is far better than losing them form the MAT all together.  It is really unlikely that staff would move between current WAT and SAF schools during the school week because of the distance between them. 

What is Due Diligence?

This is a term used to describe the rigorous steps taken by a company (e.g. Sharnbrook Academy Federation) to establish the assets and liabilities of another company (e.g. Wootton Academy Trust) and evaluate its commercial potential. In this instance both WAT and SAF would undertake due diligence on each other.