FIVE Dearne schools have opened this term in a new form - as academies. They will soon be joined by a sixth school.
Working with Navigate Academies Trust, the heads of primary academies Dearne Highgate, The Hill, Dearne Carrfield, Goldthorpe, Gooseacre and Littleworth Grange of Barnsley, are trailblazers of a brand new model for learning.
It’s a major step, but they insist change will be seamless for both pupils and staff - and can only bring good.
The four heads whose schools have a history of closeness, explained why they have opted out of Local Authority control.
The educational landscape is changing, and by working together formally, with more budget control, they can do better for their pupils, they claim.
Relations remain good between the academies and the local education authority, say the heads. Navigate Academies Trust is a preferred academy sponsor of the LA, and there has been complete transparency throughout the process.
It has been a year in the making and by the start of next year pupils should be reaping benefits, the Times was told. Sarah Creighton, the executive principal of both Gooseacre Primary Academy and the Hill, classed as outstanding by Ofsted, said: “Initially it was only schools classed as outstanding that had the option to become academies. Now all schools are encouraged to move that way and it seemed natural for us all to link together, given our close working relationship of the past.”
Steve Poxton, principal of Carrfield Primary Academy said: “Barnsley Council is realistic. They know that outstanding schools may make the move anyway.”
Working with Navigate, the Dearne team believe they can hold on to more cash than would be possible otherwise, within changes that take effect in April.
They hope to bring in expertise to their schools from further afield, and have several priorities on their wish-list.
For instance, said Mike Latham, consultant headteacher at Goldthorpe Primary, they would like to have access to more educational psychologist support. Family support workers are another must. And they are exploring ways of engaging others to help nurture gifted pupils. There was wide consultation about the conversion to academy status, and parents have put their trust in school leaders. Governing bodies will be slightly reduced in size but there are no staff changes, and trade union involvement will continue.
“We are fans of bespoke training,” added Sarah. “We aim to adjust training to meet the needs of staff, instead of a one-size-fits-all model.”
Financially, there will be more freedom within their multi-funding agremeent.
“We have optimism,” said Steve Poxton: “It’s an exciting time and we are forging new relationships to bring better opportunities to pupils.”
After their first 20 days as academies they have no reason to doubt their decision, say the heads.
In a few months their ‘model for learning’ will include the Dearne ALC. Navigate’s vision is to “establish outstanding academies for the community, based on a local model that enables schools to support each other to improve.”
A spokeswoman for Barnsley Council said: “The council is pleased to endorse the recent development in the Dearne where a number of primary schools are coming together with the local high school, to share expertise and resources for the benefit of the children in these schools.”