Further FAQs, 5 January 2016
Thank you to the parents and members of the Ralph Allen School community who have sent in additional questions. We have given answers below.
As advertised in the last parents' e-news we have extended the consultation closing date until Friday 15 January 2016 and we also have our drop in session for parents on Thursday 7 January at school from 4.00-5.30pm. The meeting will be hosted by Tim Withers (Principal), Russell Franks (Chair of Governors) and Jo Marsh (Business Manager).
Q: Which schools are included in the proposed trust - will there be primary and secondary?
A: We are currently in conversation with local primary schools - by local we mean no more than a 10-20 minute drive away (20mins allows for city traffic over a short distance!). It is too early to be specific; however we are welcoming explorations into this subject with all of our neighbours. We can technically be a multi academy trust of one school at the beginning - which would be Ralph Allen. However the MAT is then able to accept other schools (after a due diligence review each time). We can see the benefit of working with other primary and secondary schools - however we wouldn't want the trust to grow too quickly or become too large, therefore our focus is working with local primary schools initially.
Q: Is a school able to leave the trust?
A: At the moment the Secretary of State is the only one with the power to cease a trust relationship. However, it is clear that government intention is to enable appropriate movement of schools and we would support that flexibility.
Q: What are the arrangements for parent representation on the combined trust board?
A: Parents continue to be represented on each local governing body as per the current set up of each individual school. For Ralph Allen that is 8 governors are parents and this will continue. Local Governing Bodies’ representatives will feed into and be part of the committee structure of the trust. Any other school would keep their own local governing body structure too. The trust board itself has a skill mix rather than a specific representative of parents, staff or schools. The skills and experience mix must cover school improvement, legal, HR, finance and include some independence from any schools. The board must serve and preserve the unique ethos of each school joining the trust. So each school's unique identity is respected and protected irrespective of age of children, faith or non-faith status. Parent support, challenge and voice is an essential success factor at Ralph Allen. This will be the same for the Palladian Academy Trust and every school that joins it.
Q: What is meant by sponsoring a primary school?
A: Sponsoring is when we directly and formally support a school that is experiencing difficulty with performance. It could be an ‘Ofsted requiring improvement or ‘special measures’ school. This is a longer term school improvement partnership that we believe works best at a local level. This type of sponsoring should not be confused with the sponsorship of a business coming in to run the school as in the previous government sponsor academy model (eg Ikea could sponsor a school). Primary schools which are good or outstanding could join the Palladian Academy by converting to academy status rather than sponsor status. Also the new build primary school at Mulberry Park (and all other new schools) will seek sponsors to run them, as the local authority can no longer open and run schools. We would welcome all of these constituents into the mosaic of the Palladian Academy Trust and believe that Ralph Allen benefits and learns from quality relationships with others.
Q: What do you think the risks are and how do you propose to mitigate these?
A: Key risks include growing too fast and not carefully undertaking due diligence reviews each time there is an application to join (this is critical factor that requires consideration by the board prior to any decision). This process would consider issues such as reputation, teaching and learning, financial, staffing, land and relationships and will be at the heart of the development of the Palladian Academy Trust. Once a partner is approved, transition plans will include team building and communication at all levels as we believe a steady and solid foundation will serve all the schools who want to work together in a longer term relationship. We have also identified that doing nothing is a risk for us. The clear message from government and local authority is that formal partnering is a secure strategy. After being a single academy for 3+ years we feel ready to build on the academy movement to the benefit of learners in our locality.
Q: What is the impact on other schools in Bath that will be outside this arrangement? Surely they may lose out and the local support from BANES will wither into nothingness and inadequacy?
A: BANES have advised primaries that they need to consider who they might like to work with and the local authority are supporting primaries with this activity. As a school we are part of several important networks and partnerships and these will continue, and our MAT schools will want to retain their relevant networks too. We believe the Palladian is a strengthening action, not an indication that we turn our back on others. As a single academy, we feel BANES is a key partner and we will continue to work with them in this way as a school and as a MAT. It is highly likely that other Bath schools will be seeking partners relevant to their own context (ie Moorlands are seeking to the join the Fosseway Trust, the Bath Community Academy is with Cabot from Bristol) and we are likely to see a different grouping of schools across the authority 12 months from now. Midsomer Norton and Wellsway areas of the authority have already grouped themselves into formal partnerships. We are passionate about providing and participating in a local Bath solution for local Bath schools and Ralph Allen is proud to step up and offer a solution to the opportunities and challenges before us.
Q: How have parent governors been involved – can that be shared?
A: The governors have been carefully exploring this issue for some time and parents are the majority of our governing body. The governors feel confident that multi academy trust status is the right next step for the school and exploration to formally work with neighbouring schools should be embarked upon.
Q: I chose Ralph Allen for my child after careful research and consideration - I am worried that all the special reasons that made you a good choice will disappear if you are run by a single board? A: Ralph Allen School remains that school and we aspire to be a school of choice of the future too, so when younger siblings or new students join us they recognise the 'Ralph Allen Way' straight away. We are proud of our unique and individual feel that parents, students and staff describe and a multi academy trust must protect and serve this.
Q: I would be interested to hear some examples of what you think this new arrangement will allow you to do that you can’t do now?
A: In a nutshell this new arrangement facilitates confident combined planning, development and delivery of teaching, learning and student experience (and other back office, campus, training activities) between a local group of schools with similar ethos and energies. Where we have common need we can act more quickly together. Alone it is much harder. Curriculum developments such as what, when and how modern foreign languages are taught; logistical planning on co-ordinated and combined term dates and teacher training days to enable families to manage one set of dates and staff to combine their training delivery and sharing of expertise; transition from primary to secondary and through the key stages 2-5: developing expertise in behaviour strategies across stages and ages. All are possible now - but much harder to deliver as a disparate group. As a committed co-ordinated group we are better able to develop our curriculum to meet the needs that best suit all learners. As a combined group of schools, we can set our own programme and destiny at a pace that suits the schools involved. We feel we can better respond to contextual, financial, political and social changes and challenges as a collaborative group.