FOR the past five years, the education world has been coming to
terms with the fact that the days of the tradtional stand-alone
school are numbered. Instead, the three Cs - co-operation,
collaboration, and clusters - are no longer an experiment, but
rapidly becoming an expectation.
This is especially true of primary schools. They have greater
financial independence, and the pools of advice and resources once
provided by local authorities have long since dried up. Head
teachers and governors, with whom responsibility for standards now
rests, have to provide staff training and curriculum development
The same is true of administration. A decade ago, the idea of
even a medium-sized primary school's employing a business manager
would have seemed unlikely, at best.
More primary-school governors are taking a step further and
going for federation. This is what the separate governing bodies of
the C of E Blue Coat Infants School and the Blue Coat Junior
School, Walsall, decided three years ago.
The schools, part of a centuries-old foundation, are possibly
the oldest in Walsall, and now serve a predominantly economically
disadvantaged and ethnically diverse area. In the Infants School,
one third of 300 children receive free school meals - well above
the national average; and, for 43 per cent of them, English is not
their first language. In the 350-pupil Junior School, the figures
rise to 45 per cent and 46 per cent respectively.
The latter, moreover, is affected by unusually high pupil
turnover. Only about 60 per cent of this year's leavers have
progressed right through the school.
IN 2011, the heads of both schools were close to retirement, and
the two sets of governors, some serving both schools, were
considering the way ahead.
Dorothy Buchanan, who was then chair of the Infants School,
says: "We thought over the options. We didn't want to merge the two
schools, but we did want closer co-operation, and the best for the
children. We took advice on our options from the diocese and chose
Now a member of the joint governing body, she says that the
choice was the right one. "Federation has proved to be all we hoped
When Anthony Orlik, who had already successfully led two other C
of E schools in Walsall, arrived as executive head of the new
federation in 2012, the Infant School's OFSTED rating was Good; but
the inspectors had judged that the Junior School, struggling with
many pupils arriving and leaving mid-term, was in need of
improvement. It was upgraded last month, and both schools are now
aiming for the top rating.
The improvement has been achieved by carefully thought-out
steps, Mr Orlik says. Although recruits to the Federation may be
required to work in either school, teachers already in post have
not been required to do so.
MUCH time has been given to joint discussions with staff to
develop a shared vision, while celebrating the existing strengths
of both schools, such as success in teaching English as a second
language, reading through phonics, and expertise in working with
Intensive monitoring and support has ensured consistent practice
and standards across the two schools. At the end of each year, all
pupils add a piece of writing in a work book that follows them up
the age range. "At any time, I can look at a child's work from
Nursery to Year 6 and see what progress they have made," Mr Orlik
Children's behaviour is good, overall, but both schools have a
small, intensively staffed "nurture class", where pupils with
difficult social and developmental problems receive the constant
attention that cannot be provided in a general classroom. The
initiative is successful, prevents exclusions, and is very much
worth the considerable expense, Mr Orlik says.
Parents, who get a regular newsletter covering the activities of
the two schools, like the continuity that the Federation provides.
Increasingly, they want their children to progress from one school
to the other. "Because we're a Federation, not a merger, government
rules don't allow automatic transfer between our schools, but we
make sure that as many Infant School leavers as possible go up to
the Junior School, Mr Orlik explains.
The two schools have a close relationship with the Blue Coat
Academy. Like its sister schools, the Academy has recently made
rapid improvement, and has achieved the same Good OFSTED rating.
"Our shared aim", Mr Orlik says, "is to provide a fantastic
education for our children from the Nursery up to 18."