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Consultation about whether Ightham Primary School should become an academy as part of The Pioneer Academy

Ightham Primary School is consulting about whether the school should become an academy within The Pioneer Academy.

The consultation runs until Friday 9th February 2024 – please have your say!

If the proposal is taken forward it is anticipated that Ightham Primary School would become an academy on 1st September 2024 or as soon as possible afterwards.

The reasons for the proposal

The ethos of both Ightham Primary School and The Pioneer Academy is that children come first, with learning at the centre of everything.

Joining The Pioneer Academy provides a greater breadth of staff expertise and resilience for Ightham, and builds capacity across all the schools within the trust. This larger educational family provides opportunities for professional development and developing and sharing good practice for staff across the trust. This collaboration improves classroom practice, and that benefits all of our pupils.

The Pioneer Academy is well established and has a track record of success. It was established by Stewart Fleming Primary School in 2011, and Belvedere Junior School joined in April 2013. It has grown steadily and sensibly and now includes seventeen schools with ourselves potentially joining in September 2024. The Pioneer Academy only includes primary phase schools – 12 primary, 3 junior and 2 infant school currently.

What would happen if Ightham Primary School does join The Pioneer Academy?

If Ightham Primary School does convert to academy status and join The Pioneer Academy, Ightham Primary School would:

  • Keep the name ‘Ightham Primary School’;
  • Keep the same school day and the same school uniform;
  • Continue to have 30 places in Reception each year;
  • Benefit from increased opportunities for staff across The Pioneer Academy to work together to develop and share good practice, undertake staff development, build expertise to support groups of pupils with particular needs, and enhance resilience to staff changes.

One area that will change is:

  • The admissions over-subscription criteria for Reception entry would remain as now with the exception that The Pioneer Academy would propose adding a ‘children of staff’’ criteria. This would need to be consulted upon in Autumn 2024, and would – if approved – take effect for Reception entry in September 2026 onwards.

One area that may will change in the future is:

  • The school holidays at Ightham Primary School may consult in the future to align with those at the other schools within The Pioneer Academy, with the school matching the pattern of the other schools with the autumn term starting immediately after the August bank holiday and including a two week October half-term.

What is an academy and how is it different?

An academy is an independent state school, funded directly from central government rather than through Kent County Council. An academy has several differences from a community school, including:

  • Being responsible for its own admissions policy;
  • Being responsible for its land and buildings;
  • Having freedom from the requirement to follow the National Curriculum; and
  • Being the employer of its staff.

The Pioneer Academy will use its experience to ensure that Ightham gains the most advantage from being an academy.

The Board of Trustees of The Pioneer Academy is responsible for all the schools within the Trust. School Boards provide local governance, and support and challenge to the Headteacher and leadership team, and include parents and staff. For Ightham Primary, the School Board would be formed from the current Governing Body.

Where can I find further information? How can I have my say?

More detailed Questions and Answers are available on the Ightham website (www.ightham.kent.sch.uk) or from the School Office. Further information about academies is also available on the DfE website (www.education.gov.uk/academies).

You can have your say by:

Governors would particularly welcome your views about what you think the advantages of joining The Pioneer Academy would be, any concerns that you might have, and any areas that you would welcome further information about. 

  • Meetings for current or future parents: Monday 15th January 2024 at Ightham Primary School at 9am and 6pm.

Staff at Ightham and other local stakeholders are also being consulted.

The consultation closes on Friday 9th February 2024. Please have your say!

What happens next?

The Governing Body will consider all responses to the consultation.

If the proposal proceeds, it is anticipated that Ightham Primary School would become an academy and join The Pioneer Academy on 1st September 2024 or as soon as possible afterwards. If the proposal does not proceed, Ightham Primary School would remain a community school within Kent County Council.

Academy conversion Questions and Answers

This document has been issued by Ightham Primary School and The Pioneer Academy as part of the consultation about whether Ightham Primary School should convert to academy status within The Pioneer Academy.

Why has this proposal been put forward?

1.       Why is Ightham Primary School considering converting to academy status?

The primary focus of every school is on providing the highest possible quality education to its pupils. Governors believe that being part of a primary-school multi-academy trust would provide benefits to staff and pupils in terms of sharing best practice, joint curriculum and staff development, a broader range of staff expertise, and more resilience within the staffing structure.

Ightham Primary School wants to secure its future by continuing to focus on providing the highest quality education for children – building on its strengths and continuing to be an Ofsted-rated Outstanding school. It also wants to build on its strong ethos of nurture and aspiration.

Ightham Primary School wants to be part of a strong and diverse cluster of schools which shares its ethos and is ambitious for its children (current and future) in terms of well-being, academic success and social mobility.

After reviewing a wide range of options on what is in the best interests of all children, the governors decided that joining an academy trust was the preferred option since a MAT, smaller and more flexible than a local authority but bigger than a small one-form-entry school, will have the motivation and capacity to better champion Ightham Primary School.

After considering a number of academy trusts in the local area, the governors feel that the values, ethos and educational vision and expertise of The Pioneer Academy trust (TPA) are an excellent fit with those of Ightham Primary School.

2.       Why is The Pioneer Academy wanting to work with Ightham Primary School?

The Pioneer Academy is a richly diverse and inclusive Trust that has seventeen primary-phase schools (twelve primary, three junior and two infants) across the South East.  The CEO is a former Head Teacher, who is passionate about making schools centres of excellence and learning hubs in their communities.

The Pioneer Academy has a strong moral purpose to raise achievement and attainment in all of the schools that it works with. It has established a track record of rapid and sustainable improvement in schools, through a combination of strong leadership, effective curriculum, high quality teaching, and rigorous planning and tracking.

The Pioneer Academy Trust vision is that ‘We put children first, pioneering excellence and championing each and every child’ and promotes our motto; ’Safe – Happy – Learning’. The Pioneer Academy adopts the following expectations:

Safe:

  • Schools are safe and secure.
  • Safeguarding is effective and robust
  • Similarities and differences are celebrated; everyone thrives and flourishes

Happy:

  • Pupils and staff are positive and succeed in a supportive environment
  • Wellbeing for all
  • High standards of attendance and enjoyment are outcomes of an inclusive TPA school

Learning:

  • Learning is achieved by the successful sequencing of memorable experiences
  • Learners are engaged, resilient and enthusiastic
  • Learning outcomes are ambitious due to knowledgeable and effective teaching

What is an academy?

3.       What is an Academy?

An Academy is an independent state school, funded directly from central government rather than through a local authority. A charitable company limited by guarantee (the Academy Trust) is responsible for the academy, and the Academy Trust signs the Funding Agreement (the contract) with the Secretary of State as part of the establishment of the academy.

Legislation requires that an academy has the following characteristics:

  • That it offers a balanced and broadly-based curriculum;
  • That it provides education for pupils of different abilities; and
  • That it provides education for pupils who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which the school is situated

4.       How is an academy different from a community school?

An academy has several differences to a community school, including:

  • Admissions – an academy is responsible for setting and implementing its admissions policy and for prioritising applications. An academy must continue to operate within the requirements of the national School Admissions Code in the same way as maintained schools, including full participation in the local coordinated admissions scheme administered by the local authority;
  • Land and Buildings – the land and buildings of the school are leased to the Academy Trust for 125 years at a peppercorn rent from the Local Authority and the academy would be responsible for the land and buildings (and reliant on the Secretary of State for capital funding);
  • Curriculum – an academy has to offer a broad and balanced curriculum for pupils of differing abilities, including Maths, English, and Science, but it does not have to follow the National Curriculum; the Funding Agreement requires that an academy teaches Religious Education;
  • Employment – the Academy Trust becomes the employer of school staff, rather than the local authority. Academies also have freedom to set new terms and conditions for future staff;
  • Funding – the academy receives its existing school budget and also its share of the funding that is retained by the local authority for maintained schools; and
  • Governance – The Pioneer Academy (which is a charitable company) would be responsible for all the schools within the Trust. School Boards provide local governance, and support and challenge to the Headteacher and leadership team, and include parents and staff. For Ightham Primary, the School Board would be formed from the current Governing Body.

Some of these responsibilities are already held by Foundation and Voluntary-Aided Schools – Voluntary-Aided schools, for instance, are already responsible for their admissions, own their land and buildings (often through a Diocese) and employ their staff directly.

The Pioneer Academy is a multi-academy trust. This means that a single academy trust is responsible for several schools, who work together in close partnership to improve outcomes for pupils at all of the schools. Being part of The Pioneer Academy provides access to a greater range of staffing expertise, provides greater resilience in staffing if staff are ill, on maternity leave or change job, provides more career development and training opportunities, and enables greater sustainability.

5.       Does Ofsted inspect academies?

Yes, in exactly the same way as for maintained schools.

6.       How can the Secretary of State intervene in an academy?

The Secretary of State has the ability to terminate the Funding Agreement for each of the schools within the Academy Trust if specified situations, predominantly if a school is eligible for ‘special measures’ or ‘requires significant improvement’ following an Ofsted inspection, student performance unacceptably low, there has been a serious breakdown in the governance or management of the academy, or the safety of pupils or staff is threatened. In this situation the Secretary of State would be able to enter into a Funding Agreement with another Academy Trust to take over the governance and management of the academy.

Academy governance

7.       How would the academy be governed?

The Pioneer Academy is already an Academy Trust. The Academy Trust signs a Funding Agreement (the contract) with the Secretary of State for each school within the Academy Trust.

The Pioneer Academy has a Board of Trustees that would be legally responsible for the schools within the Trust (technically they are the legal Governing Body for each school).

School Boards provide local governance, and support and challenge to the Headteacher and leadership team, and include parents and staff. For Ightham Primary, the School Board would be formed from the current Governing Body.

An Academy Trust also has a small number of Members. These Members have a similar role to ‘shareholders’ in a private company limited by shares, with the ability to appoint some of the Trustees.

8.       How would parents become part of the School Board?

The same process as for the school currently. When there is a vacancy, applications are sought from the parents at the school, which may outline particular skill sets that would be useful to the School Board. If there are the same number or fewer applications than vacancies then those individuals who applied are appointed. If there are more applications than vacancies, the parents vote to decide who becomes a governor. 

Academy funding and services

9.       Do academies receive extra funding?

Academies receive their funding direct from the Government rather than via their local authority. The budget is calculated in the same way as now, with a few (fairly small) technical changes for areas such as rates. The academy financial year runs from September to August.

Academy policies

10.   Would there be changes to the number of pupils admitted into the school?

It is not expected that the number of places at Ightham Primary School would change – there would continue to be 30 places in Reception each year.

11.   Would there be changes to the admissions over-subscription criteria?

The criteria used to determine applications for Reception (the over-subscription criteria that apply if there are more applications than places) would remain the same for Reception entry in September 2024 and September 2025. For September 2026 and subsequent years, The Pioneer Academy proposes to include a ‘children of staff’ criteria – this would need to be consulted upon in Autumn 2024 and then a decision made in early 2025.

Educational implications

12.   What are the safeguards for vulnerable pupils?

Under the terms of the Funding Agreement (which is the contract between the Academy Trust and the Secretary of State), an academy has to act in exactly the same way as a maintained school in relation to Special Education Needs, behaviour, and exclusions. The Pioneer Academy has an excellent track record of provision for vulnerable pupils.

13.   Who is responsible for deciding if a student needs an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan?

The local authority would retain the legal responsibility for leading these processes, and for determining whether Ightham is named on the EHCP.

Land and buildings

14.   What happens to the land of Ightham Primary School?

As a community school, the land is currently owned by Kent County Council, who would grant a lease to the Academy Trust. The local authority would retain the freehold title to the land. The Academy Trust would become responsible for the land and buildings in accordance with the lease.

15.   How does an academy access capital funding?

Academies receive some capital funding, called Devolved Formula Capital, according to the same methodology as maintained schools. This funding is provided directly to the academy.  Whereas Ightham Primary School currently relies on the local authority for funding for more substantial works, whether these are for repair / maintenance or for improvements, academies are generally reliant on central government.

What could change in the future?

16.   What could change in the future?

If Ightham remains as a maintained school, changes in the future could originate from central government, Kent County Council, or the Governing Body. The Governing Body already has the powers to propose changes to the school day or year, curriculum, or how the budget is spent. Kent County Council could propose changes to the admissions number and policy, and support staff terms and conditions.

If Ightham Primary School converts to academy status, The Pioneer Academy could propose changes in the future. Many of these changes would require formal consultation with parents and / or staff and their Unions. The Governors could decide some changes, while others would require the agreement of the Secretary of State. At all times, and on all issues, the Trustees’ are required to act in the best interests of the academy.

Consultation process

17.   Who is being consulted?

The consultation document has been issued to parents and staff at Ightham Primary School, Kent County Council, local primary schools, the local MP, and the Trade Unions recognised by Kent County Council.

18.   Will the Governors’ listen to the views from the consultation?

Yes, every response will be considered. Responses might include arguments for and against Ightham’s conversion and / or the choice of The Pioneer Academy as the academy trust to join, as well as questions or concerns about conversion.

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