Thursday, 3 November 2011

Ofsted: Leadership of more than one school

Ofsted carried a survey to evaluate the impact, structure and practice of federated leadership arrangements on pupils’ education in a small sample of established school federations. Within federations the leadership and governance arrangements of more than one school are shared. The survey considered the reasons for federating and the barriers encountered during the journey. Features of successful federation leadership were also identified.

Between October 2010 and February 2011, inspectors visited 61 schools in 29 federations that shared leadership. During the visits, they scrutinised school assessment information and pupils’ work, observed lessons and met with pupils and staff. In addition, they examined questionnaire returns from the leaders of 111 federations and analysed inspection judgements from 102 of the schools within these federations that had been inspected by Ofsted three years after federation. 

At the time of the survey, there were around 600 known schools where leadership arrangements were shared through federation arrangements. In the large majority of cases, these were characterised by the establishment of one senior leader across more than one school. Incomplete data prior to 2009 makes it difficult to judge whether the rate of schools entering into federation arrangements is accelerating. However, evidence gathered during the survey showed that governing bodies and local authorities were likely to consider federation routinely, particularly when there was a change in school leadership.

The schools taking part in the survey had federated for one of three main reasons.

n  In 10 of the federations visited, high performing schools had been approached, often by the local authority, to federate with a school causing concern.

n  Thirteen federations consisted of a number of small schools that had been in danger of closure or were unable to recruit high-quality staff. The aim of federation in these cases was to increase capacity and protect the quality of education available across the schools.

n  A further six federations combined schools across different phases in an attempt to strengthen the overall education of pupils in the community.

Governing bodies were also instrumental in the successful establishment of a federation, although their impact once the federation was established was more variable. In the best federations visited, governing bodies were very effective at holding headteachers to account for the strategic development of the federation. In other federations the strong record of school leadership meant that governing bodies did not challenge headteachers and senior leaders with sufficient rigour.

The school leaders and governors spoken to were generally very positive about the benefits of leading more than one school in a federated arrangement. They saw professional development, staff retention, greater availability of resources and the ability to attract high-quality leaders as the key reasons behind improvements to provision.

Key findings

n  Teaching and learning, achievement and behaviour had improved in all 10 of the federations visited where schools previously judged by inspection to be weak had been federated with a more successful school. The quality of provision and outcomes had been maintained in all 10 of the successful schools.

n  In all cases, a single system of assessing and tracking pupil progress was used in these federations. This was always an extension of the existing procedures in the stronger school and was one of the first steps taken by leaders who needed accurate information to identify weaknesses in learning.

n  One major advantage of federation governance was the improvement in the governance of weaker schools as a result of having shared arrangements.

n  In 11 of the 13 federations where schools had federated to protect the quality of education, pupils were now enjoying an enriched curriculum and a greater range of opportunities and extra-curricular activities. In the two federations of this type where leadership was judged to be only satisfactory, insufficient attention had been paid in the early stages to the strategic purpose of the federation beyond protecting schools from closure. In these circumstances, leaders lacked sufficient vision and had not changed or adapted well enough from a single school model; the federated schools had been slow at making the best of new opportunities, such as the flexible use of resources or the sharing of good practice.

n  In eight of the 13 federations where schools had federated to protect the quality of education, there was greater capacity to meet pupils’ needs flexibly and swiftly. This was particularly the case for pupils whose circumstances made them vulnerable, such as those with special educational needs and/or disabilities. This was because of the effective pooling of resources and expertise and central coordination by a single special educational needs coordinator.

n  In all six federations where the federated arrangements enabled pupils to transfer from one phase to another, academic transition was greatly enhanced by a common approach to teaching, learning and assessment between schools. As a consequence, when pupils started their new school, provision was better tailored to meet their needs.

n  In all the federations visited, effective leadership was critical to their success in building good capacity for sustained improvement. There was no evidence to suggest that any particular leadership structure across the federated schools was more effective than any other. More important was how well the structure was tailored to meet the individual circumstances of the school in each federation.

n  The 27 federations where the leadership was judged by inspectors to be good or outstanding exhibited some common features: a clear vision and good communication of the benefits that federation brought to pupils, driven by the headteacher, but shared by others; well-developed strategic plans with success criteria shared with all staff; rigorous procedures for monitoring and evaluating the federation and holding staff to account; well-established procedures for, and a belief in the importance of, developing and coaching leaders at all levels; and continued professional development of staff.

n  The impact of governance was varied. In 17 federations visited, good or outstanding governance was instrumental in holding leaders to account for the strategic ambition for the federation. In the others, governing bodies were less effective at challenging leaders to be accountable for strategic development.

n  The biggest potential barrier to federation resulted from concerns from parents, pupils and staff about what the changes would mean to them. Nearly all the federations visited had avoided or overcome this difficulty by effective communication and consultation in the early stages of federation.

n  In 17 of the federations, the local authority facilitated the process of federation effectively, particularly during the early stages where it provided valuable expertise and guidance. In six more federations the local authority had been the driving force behind persuading governing bodies and headteachers to embark on federation.


Schools embarking on federation should:

n   ensure that the strategic purpose of federation and the subsequent planning to achieve it are sharply focused on the benefits to pupils’ education

n   make sure that governing bodies establish rigorous procedures to hold leaders to account for their work that go beyond the initial steps taken to establish the federation

n   consult and communicate effectively with parents, staff, pupils and the community at the earliest stage when considering federation so that barriers that may arise as a result of concern about change are avoided.

The Department for Education should:

n   provide details of a range of established federations to local authorities and governing bodies to enable them to learn from good practice and to avoid the pitfalls others had experienced on the road to federation.

More information from Ofsted at

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