Academy Status

Willaston Primary School converted to Willaston Primary Academy on 1st September 2015.  

Please see the information below that formed part of our consultation process and updates for the community

Breaking News for the Willaston Community!

Academy update - 24th June 2015 - The Governing Body have voted to continue with the conversion to an Academy on September 1st 2015. The school uniform will not be changed for the next academic and year and will be discussed with parents in the future before any changes are decided.

We are delighted to inform you that the Governors of Willaston Primary School are actively considering conversion to Academy Status on 1st September 2015. We have applied to the Department for Education and recently had confirmation that we are a suitable school, meeting all of the criteria required to convert to an Academy.

If you wish to see our letter to parents or investigate Frequently Asked Questions please click on the files at the bottom of the page.

We will be posting the answers to your questions right here so you can see the thoughts of other parents and members of our community. We really want to know your thoughts on our possible conversion. please send any questions or comments to: head@willastonacademy.co.uk or admin@willastonacademy.co.uk

Alternatively you can post you questions in our box in the reception area.

The Chair of Governors, Jenny Moran, has summarised the points discussed in the parent council meeting on Friday 22nd May.

Academy Questions:

1) Will the school and families still have access to the services of Ian Murfitt, Family Support Worker for the Nantwich Partnership?

We will still be a member of the Nantwich Education Partnership and benefit from the services of Ian Murfitt (Education Outreach Worker) and Lesley Wrenshall (Lead SENCo) as well as maintaining our close links with the other local primary and secondary schools.

2) Will the cost of school dinners be affected?

The cost of school dinners will not be affected. They will still cost £2.20 next year and the infant children from Rec to Year 2 will still be eligible for universal free school meals.

3) This is yet another change for a school which seems in a constant state of flux. For 2015-16 it is proposed to change the teachers of 6 out of the 7 classes. We have already had significant curriculum changes introduced from September 2014. Perhaps many children and parents (and even some teachers) would welcome a period of consistency.

Should the school convert to an Academy from September 1st, parents, children and staff should not see a huge change. The curriculum will continue on from the last academic year and we will give new staff time to settle into their new roles. Unfortunately the face of education changes constantly with the abandonment of levels, a new OfSTED framework at least twice a year and countless new initiatives. As an academy it would give the school certain protections from future changes imposed by the Government and offer a greater degree of stability from constant changes. As a school we would really appreciate stable periods with no staff moves and no new government initiatives to give us time to build on the strength we already have, however in reality, education is not like this. Staff move year groups to develop professionally, take time off to build a family and chose to move schools to further their career or to be closer to home. We have to react to these changes when they happen and ensure that we put the best provision in place for our children.

4) The timing of this proposed change seems odd, given the results of the recent General Election, which could have several consequences for the education sector. The Conservatives have already admitted that funding for Education will be cut in real terms (as it will not be inflation proof). Why not wait at least a year to see how the land lies as regards central government policy and particularly funding? Just because certain other local schools have converted does not mean this is an appropriate course of action for Willaston Primary at this precise moment.

It has been a long term vision of the Governing Body to consider converting to an academy. One of the reasons why we applied in January was to secure the terms of Academy conversion under the previous government. With a general election looming, we couldn’t be sure in January of the future for maintained schools or academy schools. We wanted to convert under the previous terms ensuring we were given the grant of £25,000 as well as choosing when and how we were converting. Waiting until after the general election could have resulted in a different educational climate without the necessary grant to cover the cost of conversion and the possibility of an aggressive academy drive should there be a change of government.

5) Academy status is irreversible – this is a decision which, as you make clear, should be taken with great care and due diligence, and should certainly not be rushed. And the £25,000 grant is only received at the end of the conversion process. If the school decides to abort in the meantime, the grant is not received. Some schools have found the costs of conversion exceed £25,000.

Academy status is reversible over a seven year process. The Governing Body have been researching and considering this move for 18 months to ensure it is the right decision for Willaston. We have already received the £25,000 grant to pay for the conversion costs. Should the conversion be cancelled, we only have to pay back what has not already been spent. It is not anticipated that the conversion costs should exceed the grant of £25,000. We have hired a specialist academy conversion company who have dealt with over 90 successful conversions to ensure we are getting the best possible advice.

6) As Willaston Primary is currently rated as “Good” by Ofsted, it will be obligatory to have an academy external sponsor – who is this going to be? Possibly a company or charity? How are they to be remunerated or selected, and who pays for them? Sponsors are responsible for:

the performance and finances of the school;
setting up the academy trust;
selecting the governing body; and recruiting the headteacher
If the school waited until Ofsted awards the school an “Outstanding” rating, there would be no requirement for a sponsor.

Schools who are deemed ‘Good’ by OfSTED can convert without a sponsor. Some academies are sponsored by businesses or charities. Currently schools that required to have a sponsor are schools who are judged to be in special measures. Schools can also choose to have a sponsor such as a business or charity. Willaston is not converting with a sponsor, therefore retains the control over all of the points outlined above.

7) Freedom is mentioned often in document outlining the pros of being an Academy. However, with freedom comes a significant amount of risk, a word absent from the briefing overview. Risks we can foresee include:

financial risk – being in charge of procuring services, setting pay rates for staff, keeping pace with increasing pension contributions etc, coping with significant numbers of pupils who have special educational needs, disabilities or need behavioural support – this all comes with unpredictable and increasing cost. At the moment, the local authority has significant bargaining power when negotiating with suppliers, and also there are economies of scale of organisingpurchasing on a larger basis. The academy would have neither the experience nor bargaining power of the local authority.

- We currently set our own pay rates for staff and new appointments are made in line with budgetary implications. We will continue to receive funding support from the government to support our children with special educational needs or disabilities. The procurement of goods and services is high on the NEP agenda and we currently work effectively as a group to secure effective bargaining power. As a academy we would still be able to choose to buy back multiple services from the Local Authority should we find that they are the best value.

- reliance on central government funding – how do you know it will rise enough each year to cover your costs? The early years sector has had to cope with no increase in funding for 6 years now – what if this happens to the primary sector, or just to academies?

- There is a funding agreement in place for all schools which guarantees a minimum amount of funding. Our funding will continue in the same way if we were a maintained school or an academy.

- if there is a budget deficit, who will bail out the school?;

- Willaston has never had a budget deficit due to strong financial management. The main reason why we recruited Helen Sarson was because of her effective work as a Schools Finance Officer before joining Willaston. She has worked with maintained schools and academies, therefore has an excellent knowledge of budget planning in various types of schools.

- owning land and buildings – there are huge maintenance costs for an older building. How will this be funded? There will also be significant rises in insurance costs year on year;

- public liability risk - again insurance costs are increasing;

- Insurance costs are increasing for all sectors and would still increase should we remain as a Local Authority school. As an NEP we have already made some savings as a group on insurance costs by purchasing in large numbers. As an academy we would have bargaining power and access to a wider range of services than a local authority school. Over the last two years the school has had some major maintenance work completed. This includes a new roof covering which will last for approx 15-20 years, new gas boilers ensuring increasing energy efficiency and a new electrical circuit board which brings our electrical systems bang up to date. Other ongoing works are built into a 3 year budget plan as they always have been, which allows us to plan ahead for major maintenance work. There is also the Education Funding Agency available to academy schools who can apply for significant costs towards major projects in schools.

- employment issues – the academy would be liable for any staff grievance and could be involved in protracted legal disputes where pay and conditions are not set in an appropriate manner. Will it be guaranteed that pay and conditions for existing staff will keep pace with those for new staff? What is the rationale for departing from nationally agreed pay structures agreed in liaison with trade unions?

- The school currently buys HR services from the Local Authority. Should we ever make a decision against the advice of the HR team, then we would be liable for staff grievances and any legal disputes linked to that. The choice to buy back HR services from the Local Authority is one which we are yet to make. Pay and conditions are currently set under the national agreements for staff. All terms and conditions of employments for our staff would be transferred to the academy allowing all staff to maintain their current conditions. Should we continue with the conversion, we will not be departing from nationally agreed pay structures, unless we can improve the pay and conditions for our staff. Should we negatively change terms and conditions of employment, we would find it extremely difficult in the future to retain and recruit high quality staff. We have already consulted with the 7 main unions for teachers and support staff and have met to discuss the details of the proposed conversion with trade union representatives and members of the local authority HR team to ensure the terms and conditions for staff transfer to the new academy.

- corporate structure and governance – directors can still be held liable to the actions of a company limited by guarantee. The academy trust will have to comply with the requirements of both charity law and company law (requiring a trustees report, and full audited accounts), at significant cost each year, with severe penalties for non-compliance. Will there be any parents who will want to take on the burden and responsibility of becoming a trustee of the academy, or is it unlikely that parents will be involved in the governing of the school in the future?

8) To avoid current staff being distracted from their core duties, additional administrative/financial employees would be needed, in lieu of the services currently provided by the local authority – again this is an additional cost. Other costs which come to mind include:

- training and professional development costs which would be incurred by the school on a frequent basis, without the economies of scale currently enjoyed by the local authority i.e. more expensive; and new signs and website.
Training and professional development costs are already incurred by us as a maintained school. As an NEP we already source trainers and educators to work alongside staff. In the last year we have organised many training courses for staff at discounted rates because of shared procurement.

We will need to increase the hours of current admin staff to manage the extra administrative burden that academy status will bring. This was an anticipated cost when we considered conversion as we are fully aware that the main changes in duties fall upon the office and financial staff on a daily basis. By increasing the hours of the current staff, we will be also increasing their skill base due to their differing role. The teaching staff should not notice a change in their role and will be able to concentrate fully on their teaching and learning responsibilities. Our website is currently a Google website which costs £10 per year to run. As a school we are already looking at a website update and possibly an App to ensure parents are kept up to date, regardless of whether we convert to an academy or not. An effective website is essential regardless of the status of the school. We will need a new sign at the front of the school; however these are anticipated costs and are quite minimal.

9) Parents will no longer have a right to complain to the local authority or a local councillor – if the school cannot satisfy a parent with a complaint, the only recourse is to the Secretary of State for Education.

The parent complaints procedure will be very similar as an academy as it is now. Currently parents make initial complaints to the governing body where it is dealt with by the complaints committee. This process will remain the same and the governing body do everything in their power to resolve complaints efficiently and with a successful outcome for all parties. Parents will still have the Parent View website to make comments and any grave concerns can be reported to OfSTED.

10) As academies can influence their own admissions policy (although not base it on ability), would the school eventually limit the number of children with special needs or disabilities? Would it become less inclusive to the detriment of the local community? Would it specify a religious setting for the school?

For the school to limit the admission of children with special needs or disabilities would be acting unlawfully. We are and always will be an inclusive school and pride ourselves on the SEND offer that we have for our pupils. As a school our SEND provision has evolved immensely over time and we now cater for children with a wide range of complex needs and disabilities. We are proud of our community links and would like to continue these as an academy.
We have no plans to specify a religious setting for the school. We will still teach RE and adopt a ‘broadly Christian approach’ as we do now. We aim for our school to continue being a happy school with a caring ethos and that will not change should we convert to an academy.

11) Would the Ofsted history of the school be lost with a change to academy status? Is a change likely to provoke yet another Ofsted visit?

OfSTED usually inspect new academy schools 4 terms after conversion, which is only 1 term later than we are expecting an inspection. It would be a new chapter in the life of Willaston Primary but we are definitely not discounting the previous OfSTED inspections, the recognition of what we are doing well and the points to help us strive for Outstanding.

12) There is no evidence that converting to an academy raises educational standards. Academies can employ teachers without qualified teacher status – presumably this saves money but would hardly contribute to raising standards.

We can already employ unqualified teachers as a Local Authority school. Whether we continue the conversion process or not we will always strive to improve our provision and facilities. We would not choose to employ an unqualified teacher just in order to save money. There are some very talented individuals out there who are not necessarily qualified teachers but experts in their own field. We would always seek to employ the best person for the role in hand to provide the best opportunities for our children.

13) School uniform costs for parents (a big cost, especially where a family has more than one child at school) – this is a real issue particularly as many families use second-hand uniform and therefore do not always pay for uniforms. Why change the uniform?

The new uniform will mark the start of a new chapter for Willaston, should we convert, and will give parents and pupils the chance to suggest opinions regarding of colour, flexibility of items and type of clothes. Any uniform change will be discussed over the next year academic year with a lengthy transitioning period for current parents where the new uniform should only be worn when a replacement needs to be purchased. Children can wear the old style uniform for as long as they wish to do so. Parents will not be required to purchase new uniform unnecessarily.

14) Term dates – in reality, the academy would have limited autonomy given the requirements of the public holidays at Christmas and Easter and also the need to coincide with other local schools where siblings are attending.

From April 2015 all schools have the ability to set their own term dates. Whether we were an academy or not we would always wish to organise our holidays in line with other local schools to ensure families with siblings at more than one school are not disadvantaged by different term dates.

15) Lastly, but very importantly: The freedom to define/tailor a syllabus freed from some of the constraints of the national curriculum are signalled as beneficial by the briefing document, but what does this mean in practice? What concrete plans does the school have for curriculum evolution should academy status be obtained? How will teaching delivery alter across the years? Will specialist areas be introduced? What, more concretely, will change in the student’s educational experience?

To begin with the students’ educational experience will not change. Willaston staff wrote a very comprehensive curriculum only a year ago which we are constantly evaluating. As we continue to improve the curriculum, we would have the opportunity as an academy to make changes to curriculum content to finely tune it to the needs of our learners. The curriculum will evolve over time linked to the evaluations of staff and pupils. There are currently no plans to radically overhaul a curriculum that is in its infancy. The National Curriculum as it stands is very knowledge based, not necessarily skills based and it is those life-long skills which we see as being essential to our learners to prepare them for life beyond Willaston. The current history and geography curriculum currently list many facts that need to be learned, without necessarily giving the children the skills needed to take their learning forward. It is the richness of experience that we wish to bring to the children of Willaston and the opportunity for independent thinking, questioning, depth of research that are currently difficult to squeeze into a very packed timetable. We are very constrained within the National Curriculum of what should be taught in a particular year group or key stage and those constraints can squash creativity and the ability to become immersed in an area of learning. As we haven’t yet converted, there are no plans as yet to include more specialist areas of teaching, but that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t consider it in the future having the freedom of academy status. Currently the children have a specialist teacher for French and a sports coach for PE. Some classes already have different teachers for Music, DT etc so already there are some areas of specialist teaching going on. Any curriculum changes would always be in the best interests of the children.

16) To be democratic and transparent, academy conversion should be the subject of a parent/carer ballot, plus a public meeting (ideally, the ballot would follow the meeting). An 11-day written consultation period from 11 May to 22 May is not sufficient for a meaningful dialogue to commence, particularly with a proposed conversion date of September 2015.

The parent consultation date runs from 11th May until the Governing Body vote on the 24th June. The staff consultation is a statutory 31 day period which began on 18th May. Governors are representative of the parents, staff and community and know the workings of the school inside out. They have been researching the possibilities of academy status for some time and are in the best place to make the right decision for the Willaston community.

We are holding an informal coffee morning on Wednesday 17th June and Friday 19th June from 8.30-9.30 for parents to drop in and chat about the proposed conversion with members of the governing body. We also have an academy question box in the reception area. The Parent Council meeting on 22nd May was dedicated to the subject of academy. There were representatives from all classes in school who asked very insightful questions into the proposed conversion. The questions and answers from that meeting will also be seen here on this page.

17) As I understand it the Governors would run the school as a business. There are a lot of parent governors - do current governors have skills and qualifications for the necessary roles as an academy and will the roles and responsibilities change for September?

We currently have Governors with a wide ranging skill set which was a reason why the DfE looked at us as a strong candidate for Academy Status. Within our Governing Body current occupations include: Company Directors, an ex- School Business Manager, ex-Manchester Metropolitan teacher training lecturer, accountants, Professor of Creative Arts, owner of private pre-school provision, Police Officer specialising in safeguarding, and Head of School at Keele University to name but a few. Each Governor completes a skills matrix which allows us to see exactly what skills and expertise they have to offer. Governor skills and interests are then matched to a particular committee where they can provide the best support. As well as our 4 elected parent governors, we have a further 8 governors who are co-opted on to the Governing Body. When a vacancy arises for a co-opted governor we do try to recruit governors with a specific skill set

18) I understand some of the financial benefits but also have concerns over potential financial risks. How will the initial finances be spent and what happens if the school gets into financial difficulties?

When academy conversion happens there are no additional injections of funds. We will have a small amount of extra money extra that the local authority usually held back to pay for central services. If we should convert that would be available to us but it would be used to buy the services and support that we need as a school. Willaston has never had a deficit budget or been in financial difficulties thanks to careful financial planning and management. We have had considerable strength over the years in our School Business Managers, Miss Sarson and previously Mrs Mellor, who has now been co-opted on to the Governing Body in order to maintain the strength of the Finance Committee. When Mrs Mellor announced that she was leaving, Miss Sarson was the only name for the job due to her considerable experience as a Schools Finance Officer for Willaston as well as a large number of other schools. Miss Sarson has worked both with academies and non-academies, so knows the full workings of an academy budget and what sound financial planning looks like for an Academy.

19) There is a big change with new teachers during the next school year. Are there any plans for implementing or removing other changes to the curriculum and if so what will the benefits to the children be?

There are no plans to make any immediate or big changes to the curriculum for the next academic year. The Willaston staff only wrote the current curriculum last year and need time to properly evaluate its merits and development points. The benefit that academy status brings is that as staff continue to evaluate the curriculum we will be able to have more freedom over how the curriculum evolves in the future. When it was written last year there was a lot of content that we were legally bound to squeeze in and we felt that we were losing depth of content. Our vision for the curriculum is one of richness which prepares the children for their life ahead whilst ensuring they face the rigour of their literacy and numeracy learning. The benefits for the children will be the ability to become engrossed in interesting and exciting learning opportunities.

20) Should a bigger issue arise with school what will the process be for dealing with it and resolving?

It is difficult to have a crystal ball and foresee what big issues the school will face in the future. All of the big issues such as fire damage, structural complications etc would be solved in the same way as they would be now as we will continue to be insured against such eventualities as we would as a local authority school. During the last 5 years the school has faced some considerable challenges and has dealt with them both with and without the support of the Local Authority. As a school we will continue to be a member of the Nantwich Education Partnership which is made up of the 16 schools in the area. This is an extremely supportive group where Heads work together for the good of each of the schools, supporting each other when any problems arise. This support will not change in the future were we to become an academy.

21) Will the admissions process change as there are many new housing developments planned in the foreseeable future? How will catchment be defined (guessing this is a positive as LA will not have the autonomy to instruct portacabin classroom)?

As outlined in the FAQ’s document, the admissions process would not change if we became an academy. There are also no plans at this time to change our catchment. There is a concern over the amount of proposed housing in Willaston and the Local Authority has a responsibility to provide school places for every child. If the Local Authority needed to increase the size of our school to accommodate more pupils then we would have to abide by that decision even as an academy.

22) How does academy status affect children with special needs? For example, would an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) still be used?

Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities will not be affected by a conversion to Academy Status. We will still receive funding and support from the Local Authority for children with SEND. Every school, whether academy or not, has a legal obligation to cater the individual needs of its pupils. We have built up a strong SEND team here at Willaston supporting children with a wide range of complex needs and will continue to do so in the future. If a child comes to us with an EHCP we will continue to follow this as it is a legal document. We will also continue to apply for EHCP’s for our children if it is deemed appropriate. Should we convert to an academy we will still receive the support from the Cheshire East Autism Team (CEAT), Continence Team, Speech and Language services, physiotherapy services etc just as we do now.

23) Are there any plans to change the current school uniform? If so is this likely to be implemented from September?

Yes, in the future we will change the current school uniform as the school will have a change of name and possibly a new logo should it convert to Willaston Primary Academy. Any change will be considered over the next academic year in consultation with parents to discuss the style, colour logo, etc of the uniform to minimise cost impact. Any new uniform will be brought in very slowly to allow for natural wastage and wear and tear of current uniform without the need for parents to go out and purchase a whole new set of school clothes. We have also discussed the availability of new logo patches to put over the old logos on jumpers, cardigans and polo shirts during the transition period.

24) The possible conversion to academy seems a little rushed for parents. Why has this news suddenly been announced?

The Governing Body have been actively considering the pros and cons of academy status for over 18 months and have spent considerable time visiting other schools, speaking to experts and researching the implications for the school before making the decision to apply to the Department of Education. It is a big step for Willaston Primary and one not taken lightly. Governors had to be sure that it was a decision that would benefit the school and that they were aware of all of the benefits and pitfalls before making any announcements to parents. We wanted to make sure that we could answer all of your questions about what it might mean for Willaston, before making any premature announcement with only half of the facts.

25) Is it a done deal? Has the decision been made?

Not at all. This has been a project and a vision of the Governing Body for some time, but it needs to be the right decision for the families and staff. This is why we are consulting with you all now to ascertain your views and answer your questions and concerns. The time for collecting parent views is 7 weeks from the announcement until the vote, but we would be more than happy to answer any questions or concerns after the vote too.

The staff consultation is 31 days and we have already met with Trade Unions as well as the Cheshire East HR Team to ensure that every base is covered and staff benefit from the same terms and conditions as an academy that they would do in a Local Authority school. If anything, we wish to be able to improve the terms and conditions for our staff in the future. The Governing Body are voting on 24th June whether to continue with the conversion or not and they will take all stakeholder views into account when making that decision.