Stradbroke and Laxfield primary schools begin partnership

PartnershipSmall schools in Suffolk are increasingly forming partnerships and more formal federations. This is clearly in part a response to the challenging financial situation and falling numbers of children in rural Suffolk. Yesterday Stradbroke and All Saints Laxfield primary schools announced to parents that they will begin a collaboration in the Summer Term that will see Melanie Barrow currently the Headteacher at Stradbroke become Executive Head of both schools. The deputies at each site become “Heads of School” responsible for day to day issues under the direction of the Executive Head.

The opportunity for a collaboration between Stradbroke and Laxfield came about when Laxfield’s head moved onto another school and Laxfield actively sought partners. At Stradbroke we had already spent quite a bit of time discussing collaboration which we saw as a good way forward but wanted to be careful to choose the right partner. This meant we were in a strong position to move when the opportunity arose.

Laxfield is a very similar school in terms of size although there are differences due to it being a Voluntary Aided (VA) school rather than a Voluntary Controlled (VC) school. Basically the church has more influence at Laxfield but both schools are church schools and that is also a common link.
Geographical proximity is also a major advantage. Both schools want to retain their individual identities but the collaboration will enable savings in time and money to be made for both schools helping to make them more sustainable than they would be on their own.

Governors and staff have already invested a lot of time and thought into the partnership and at a joint meeting of both Governing Bodies last week appointed a Joint Committee to steer the partnership which I am chairing. It’s been a lot of work already but we are already looking to see where we can save time such as holding joint governors meetings to discuss the County Papers and shared issues.
Once the partnership has run for a year or more we are planning to explore a formal federation which would mean a single governing body for both schools.

Inevitably comparisons are drawn to personal relationships when setting up a partnership. It’s a bit like that and it is true to say we are probably still in the “honeymoon” period. I even suggested at one meeting when encountering some resistance to the idea of a formal federation that it was a bit like saying we should live together but not get married! Such talk still raises eyebrows in church schools!

For any school thinking of a partnership I would encourage making sure that you understand the amount of work involved to set things up. Governors and senior school leaders are going to have to spend time in meetings and working on actions in order to make things work.

It’s also vital to keep stakeholders informed and involved. Clearly this includes all of the governors as well as staff, parents, the local authority and in the case of church schools the diocese.

Like any relationship if the foundations are weak then it is more likely to fail. The stakes are high we are seeing several Suffolk schools that were part of unsuccessful partnerships looking like they will close soon.

I think collaboration gives the best hope for small schools to continue to thrive. It’s a much better model than either closure or being gobbled up by an academy chain - not that academy chains appear that interested in small rural schools. It also helps recruit and retain school leaders and other staff something that is becoming increasingly problematic for small rural primary schools who face a high challenge particularly in recruiting heads.
Stradbroke Primary School 7414475858427878885

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