Friday, 4 November 2011

Reasons for federation

The term ‘federation’ describes collaborative leadership and governance arrangements between schools. There are two main types of federation: hard federations consist of a single governing body; and soft federations retain separate governing bodies in each school but have joint governance through committees with delegated powers.


Reasons for federation

There were three main reasons why the schools visited had decided to federate.

n  The first related to successful schools that were approached, often by the local authority, and took the decision to federate with a school causing concern.

n  A second category consisted of small schools in danger of closure, or that could not retain or recruit high-quality staff, that entered into federation in order to protect the education of pupils in the community. This was particularly the case for small primary schools often in rural locations.

n  Finally, there were examples of cross-phase federation, for example between primary and secondary schools, in an attempt to strengthen the overall education of pupils across communities.
  In 10 of the federations visited by Ofsted, and 42 of those that responded to the questionnaire, a school that had experienced difficulties or was causing concern had federated with a successful school. The most commonly perceived benefit for successful schools that federated with schools causing concern was that it enabled them to retain an effective headteacher as a result of the enhanced professional challenge offered by the extra responsibility for leading more than one school.

The most common reasons schools gave during the Osfted survey for federating were those of pragmatic and economic necessity. This was the case in 13 federations visited. These reasons arose from schools, governing bodies and local authorities endeavouring to maintain and protect the quality and existence of education in the local community. Two sets of circumstances were related to this.

n  Schools that were too small to be sustained and were threatened with closure. This was particularly the case in rural communities. This did not necessarily result in major cost savings, but greater flexibility in the deployment of finances meant that schools benefited from a broader range of resources.

n  Small schools that were having difficulty in recruiting high-quality leaders or in retaining those of proven ability who were looking for greater leadership responsibility in larger schools. In these cases, federation was aimed at making recruitment a more attractive prospect or enabling schools to offer more responsibility and financial reward to existing leaders.
One primary school visited was very small and vulnerable to closure. Its partner primary school had experienced a falling roll and concerns were heightened when the school was unable to appoint a headteacher. Consequently, a decision to soft federate was made with the headteacher from one school taking over leadership of both schools. The formation of the federation allowed an additional teacher to be appointed because of savings in leadership salaries and it was possible for both schools to maintain two classes.

Often the decision to hard federate was a compromise or alternative course of action from the one originally proposed. In seven federations visited, the local authority had initially planned a school closure or amalgamation. This decision had been met with opposition from local communities and the schools. As a result the decision to federate was made.

One federation consisted of two small primary faith schools in villages situated two miles apart. The federation was the outcome of negotiations with the local authority and diocese, the former having initially proposed a merger of the two schools. There was significant local opposition to merger in both villages; neither wanted their schools to close. Both schools, with vociferous parental and community backing, opposed the plans. Federation offered a pragmatic solution to the local authority proposals. Funding levels were becoming very challenging and the notion of a shared headteacher made the possibility of maintaining both schools more viable.

Federation can also be used to provide greater progression between phases, thus strengthening pupils’ education across schools. This was the case in six of the federations visited and in nine that responded to the questionnaire survey. In four of the federations visited, the schools were in areas that experienced high social deprivation. Federation, therefore, was perceived by governors and school leaders as a means of improving the education of pupils across these communities. Strong features of such arrangements were more effective transition arrangements between schools, as well as the ability to better support vulnerable pupils right through their school education as a result of consistent procedures for care, guidance and support throughout the federation.

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