I am the headteacher of a large Junior School. For the last five years we have been in a Federation with our neighbouring Infant and Nursery School. In our case this means that each school has it’s own headteacher, but that we share a governing body. The purpose of the Federation is to make sure that the schools work as closely together as possible to offer the best outcomes for our children and their families. It is also to ensure that the positive working arrangements we had in place became fixed, and could not be changed in the future if one of the headteachers decided to move on.
Being part of a Federation means that I work very closely with the headteacher of the Infant School. We share many key jobs – for example we have joint headteachers’ reports, school improvement plans and parent newsletters. Over time, all our school policies have been aligned and we send out information to parents on the same days and in the same formats. Our role is to lead and manage our own schools while making sure we promote the vision and values of the Federation.
The process of getting to this stage has been interesting. Our first Federation Improvement Plan was made up of two separate documents that each contained a Federation Action Plan. The next year we had a shared plan with ‘Infant’ and Junior’ sections. Since then we have been able to agree our key priorities for improvement and produce a shared plan. There are still parts that are appropriate to just one school, but it really helps bring us closer together to look at school improvement in this way.
There are differences between the way each of us approach leadership and management. We have things that excite and motivate us, and it has been a challenge at times to keep the partnership completely coherent. Our aspiration is that you will know that the schools are in a partnership as soon you walk through the door, but you will also be able to tell that we are both unique and special. Having a clear vision for the Federation has helped massively with this – we spent a long time thinking about, drafting and consulting with stakeholders to come up with ‘Our Vision for Every Child’, and we refer to the content of this all the time when decisions are needed.
Early on in the partnership we took a massive step and swapped jobs for three weeks. We changed offices, and did not go into our own schools for the whole time of the swap. At the end of the three weeks we were able to give each other very thorough feedback about our schools, and we were both really pleased to be ‘home’. Some of the the positive outcomes of the swap for the Junior School included a rapid improvement in the quality of the learning environment; a rethink of the timings of lessons, breaks and assemblies to ensure we make the best use of learning time; and the opportunity for me to get to know some of our future children years before they joined the school. Immersing yourself in another school is an amazing experience. It hugely increased the levels of trust we have in each other, and showed the staff and parents that we are really serious about our partnership. We still spend time in each others’ schools on a regular basis, and aim to be visible and available around both sites as much as possible.
This year all of our senior leadership team members have taken on a project to lead across the Federation. These have included CPD, Safeguarding, Pupil Premium, and Induction on new staff. My role has been to look at all our communications, and to look at how we generate good publicity. We have revamped our website, make increasing use of Twitter, agreed consistency in our letters home, and have designed numerous leaflets that give good information about aspects of our work.
We will continue to develop our Federation, as it has made such a difference to the children and their families. It has also made the job of headteacher much easier. I meet with the Infant School headteacher every week – we always try to make sure we work smartly in these meetings and get jobs done rather than produce work for ourselves or for other people. This week we wrote our Heads report to governors, looked at all absence request forms and agreed a letter to parents about classes for next year. This all took 45 minutes! In the last few weeks we have joined together in an informal partnership with four other schools, and aim to continue our journey by working in a wider group.
It has taken time and effort to make our partnership effective. It has been more than worth the investment though, and I would recommend this way of working to anyone.