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Week Commencing 7 March 2016

Has the GFS governing board considered the proposal (Proposal) set out in the open letter to Keith Grimwade, Service Director – Learning, Cambridgeshire County Council dated 22 June 2016 from Stratton Education Trust (SET)?


Yes. Although the letter was not addressed to the GFS governing board, copies of the letter were sent to the GFS governing board. As mentioned in the recent parent’s meeting on 7 March 2016, we are due to meet with SET to discuss their response to our consultation and we anticipate that this will also involve a discussion of the Proposal. 


Summary of the Proposal

The Proposal contemplates the amalgamation of Gamlingay Village College (GVC) and GFS to create a single reception to year 8 school (4-13 years). The GFS site would be sold and possibly redeveloped. Children would transfer to Stratton at age 13 or to an unspecified Cambridgeshire secondary school at age 11.


Our Concerns


We summarise our initial concerns below:


1. The Proposal envisages the closure of GFS and amalgamation with GVC. GFS is rated as “good” by Ofsted. GVC is rated as “requiring improvement” by Ofsted. Although the GFS governing board are pleased that GVC is making progress towards becoming a “good” school, there is no indication as to how the Proposal would improve educational standards for Gamlingay children. We believe it is possible that parents would continue to opt to remove their children from the Gamlingay education system altogether to access a Cambridgeshire primary school feeding to BVC or CVC or to access private education.


2. The educational and pastoral needs of reception and year 8 children are very different. The GVC site is not suitable for younger pupils and would require further investment to meet their practical needs (new cloakroom facilities, separate outdoor space for younger pupils etc). We also believe that the proposed additional four classrooms at GVC would be inadequate.


3. Although the Proposal states that parents would have the option to move to a Cambridgeshire secondary school at the end of year 6, it is unclear how this would work in practice. Currently Gamlingay children are not within the catchment for either Comberton Village College (CVC) or Bassingbourn Village College (BVC) and any applications to those schools are treated as “out of catchment”. There is no priority for Gamlingay children generally if those schools are oversubscribed. In addition as children attending CVC and BVC are out of catchment, there is no obligation on CCC to fund transport to those schools.  The Proposal does not explain how this situation would alter to facilitate choice for those parents who would prefer to educate their children within the Cambridgeshire two tier system. In particular it would not afford choice for those parents who were unable to afford to transport their children to their preferred choice of Cambridgeshire secondary school.


4. The Proposal states that GVC offers better facilities for pupils. As noted above, the GFS governing board does not believe that this is the case for younger pupils as the existing GFS site is better equipped to meet their needs. For years 5 and 6, the GFS governing body accepts that GVC has more extensive facilities than those typically offered in a primary school setting however those facilities are not required for the Key Stage 2 curriculum. For older pupils the GFS governing body does not believe that the facilities offered at GVC are better than facilities offered at a Cambridgeshire secondary school such as CVC.
5. The benefit of retaining GVC Leisure and community facilities at GVC are in the opinion of the GFS governing board outweighed by the educational disadvantages of the Proposal as outlined above. If GVC were to close and the site revert to Merton College, there are other possible sites to house a gym within the village and to host events such as the Gamlingay show. Although ultimately a matter for SET rather than the GFS governing board in such circumstances we would expect there to be a discussion between CCC, SET and Merton College regarding the future use of the site.


6. Similarly whilst the GFS governing board recognises the health benefits of year 5 and year 6 children walking to school, again we believe that these are outweighed by the educational disadvantages of the Proposal.


7. The GFS governing board recognises the benefits of joining a Multi Academy Trust and prior to embarking on its current proposal to academise, met with SET and BVC as well as CAT. A detailed analysis of each was completed. In our opinion CAT has the best capacity and experience to support GFS and its aspiration to become an “outstanding” school. It affords GFS an opportunity to play an important and leading role in CAT’s next phase of development.


8. Although the Proposal contemplates a local governing body for the new school, there is currently no local governing body at GVC and no details in the Proposal as to the extent of the authority which would be delegated to the local governing body. This is unlike CAT where there is a clearly defined delegated leadership model.  


As such our preferred option is to academise and join CAT. We will update this note following the meeting with SET in the event that the discussion alters our view as set out above or any further information is provided.

Q: Can you explain why CAT want GFS to join their Trust? 

A: The Trustees see their role linked to values – they have a public responsibility to act if another school wants to join and it is thought the Trust will be stronger for it. There is much educational common sense in working cross-phase, both primary and secondary. This helps to clarify the understanding amongst all teachers and will benefit the children when they move to the secondary phase. Both sets of pupils benefit when cross-phase knowledge and best practice is shared leading to better planning.


Q: How would CATs help enable GFS to become an outstanding school?  
A: CAT employ a Director of Education (an Ofsted inspector of primaries and secondaries) who can clarify what it means and what it takes to excel in the primary phase and recommend actions to meet this requirement. The increased opportunities for Continuous Professional Development (CPD) will help to optimise the existing talent pool, and additional expertise will be bought in as required. The Local Governing Board will continue to have the power to strategically shape the vision. CAT will continue to think through as they develop their primary offering how to ensure primary expertise and excellence. CAT would look to ensure that there is progress by all ability pupils in all year groups. GFS is a school that’s doing a good job and wants to improve further.


Q: I understand academies can easily opt out of employing qualified teachers. Do CAT employ only teachers with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)? 
A: Yes. All permanent teaching appointments are fully qualified teachers. This is an important issue for the Trust and it helps illustrate our motto “Excellence for all”. CATs teachers are well trained and fully prepared to teach in any of the academy’s schools.


Q: Are there CAT staff who have taught both primary and secondary phases?  
A: CAT have Science, English and Maths teachers who work with staff across the catchment primaries. The previous Head of Maths now teaches Professional Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) students and runs activities for primary schools and CAT also have science teachers who run activities for primary school ages including a mobile laboratory. CAT run maths activities and classes for very able younger students. CAT operate a Teaching School that trains teachers, both primary and secondary, and so have knowledge of the current requirements to be an outstanding teacher in either phase. 


Q: What physical differences will the children see if GFS becomes an academy?  
A:  From a GFS pupils perspective nothing will immediately change - it is purely a change of legal status on day 1.


Q: Why are none of the current feeder primary schools members of CAT? 
A: Only one of them to date has become an academy. It is perceived across the education sector in the next 1-2 years there will be significant change as it isn't a realistic option for a school to stay as it is. All 32 Cambridgeshire secondary schools and 15% of the 200+ primaries now have academy status. Some primaries are actively considering creating primary MATs. The Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) wouldn’t currently advise schools to academise on their own but to join together create a MAT, or join with a strong existing MAT.


Q: Does joining CAT automatically give GFS catchment school status? 
A: No. If the decision is made to proceed with the proposal from this consultation, GFS would become a 'first school academy'. 


Q: What are the implications for GFS of not joining CAT? 
A: The governors agree that if we do not become an academy and join CAT we would, in the short term, remain unchanged as a state maintained first school. The implications of this would be to almost immediately lose many children from all year groups. Schools are funded per pupil and therefore this would result in a loss of money to the school. Classes may need to be reduced and reorganised, staff made redundant, pupil progress development plans and strategies revised, equipment orders and extra curricular opportunities revisited. The governors would investigate joining another trust but this would of course need very careful consideration as to the outcomes any such move would afford GFS.


Q: Have the governors a contingency plan if GFS becomes an academy but CAT didn't subsequently achieve an extension to the age range via a future consultation?  
A: We would continue as a first school but with academy status. Catchment arrangements will be as now. GFS would be able to access all of the services CAT offer including training and development, and other educational benefits, alongside all of the administrative efficiencies and cost savings that joining a MAT usually provide. Plus, of course, wide ranging financial support. A member academy does not have to feed into another school within a MAT.


Q: So if the above scenario happened, this would make GFS a 'three-tier academy school within a MAT'. Isn't this the same position as GVC?
A: Not at all, the important distinction would be that GFS, as a member academy, would have equal status with all of the other academy schools within a large, mature, financially stable MAT with a £30m budget and access to allL of its shared services. Most importantly, it would retain local governance powers through its local governing body (LGB). These are big advantages for a small school. This is wholly unlike GVC's situation, which is around one eighth the size of the only other school (Stratton Upper) in a much smaller MAT. Yes, GVC has access to critical financial support, but it gets charged for access to any of SET services and doesn't have its own LGB.

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