Proposal: The Headteacher, Trustees and Governors of Kingsway Park High School are seeking your views on the matter of becoming an academy and joining the Altus Education Partnership
I am writing to inform you that Kingsway Park High School is exploring the possibility of becoming an Academy. This letter will outline the key information about such a step and the questions that are commonly raised; at the end you will be asked to share your views.
What is an Academy?
Academies are independent, state-funded schools, which receive their funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority. The day-to-day running of the school is the responsibility of the head teacher or principal, but they are overseen by individual charitable bodies called academy trusts.
There are two types of academy trust
The site and land are managed by the trust
All staff are employed by the trust not the local authority
What is KPHS now?
Currently Kingsway Park is a Foundation Trust school, which means that we are already in a slightly different position to most maintained schools; we already hold a greater responsibility for our own operations and so becoming an academy is not as different for us as it might be for most maintained schools.
What are the differences/benefits if we become an academy?
Academies have control and flexibility over how the school is run, for example financially and in deciding term dates/lengths and can therefore focus on the elements that are important to their staff and students more precisely.
As academies are independent of the LA, they receive their funding from the government directly. This gives full budgetary control without the need to wait for it to be allocated to certain areas and with the option to negotiate our own service contracts as needed without being tied into wider financial obligations. This can mean savings and means that school leaders have greater flexibility to allocate finance to key priorities.
Academies have autonomy over the curriculum they offer, meaning greater flexibility to tailor it to the needs of its community.
What are the benefits if we join Altus?
Being a member of a multi-academy trust enables schools to benefit from shared training and development, expertise and the promotion of best practice amongst a larger group of colleagues.
More efficient ‘back office,’ systems and the opportunity to benefit from economies of scale when purchasing which leads to more funds for classroom use. There are also typically more robust systems of governance in MATs than in single academy trusts.
Altus is a local trust with the same interest as KPHS; serving Rochdale students and this shared purpose means that operationally and strategically we can align our practice in their best interests. Altus adheres to all Gatsby requirements (relating to the progression of students to colleges for example) so the partnership would only enhance post-16 routes for KPHS students.
What are the reasons given as to why schools shouldn’t academise?
Academy trusts are private companies and the conversion of schools into academies is sometimes interpreted as the privatisation of education. However, academies are publicly funded and are held accountable for this directly, via a different route. Adherence to the Nolan principles applies to academies as to all those in public service.
Academies are not under local authority control and therefore not always seen as accountable to the local community. However, KPHS is already a Foundation Trust school which reduces the difference between our current status and that of academy – and propose to academise only with a MAT which relies on a local governance model, as now.
Academies can set their own admissions criteria, which has led to fears of selection. However, there are no plans to change the admissions criteria at KPHS which will remain an inclusive school serving this local community.
In matters of complaint, parents would not appeal to the local authority about decisions made by academies, but instead to the academy trust and the secretary of state. Parents still have the right of appeal on the same matters however.
Some MATs have a reputation for imposing ‘one size fits all,’ curriculum and staffing structures on schools, so they actually end up with less autonomy. However, KPHS has spent considerable time exploring our options and is satisfied that Altus has a model that will presume autonomy over curriculum and operational decisions and challenge quality and standards robustly.
How has the governing body reached this decision to consult on this, and why now?
The KPHS governors and Foundation Trust have taken considerable time to reflect on the options available at this time, including not academizing at all. Both layers of governance have actively agreed not to become an academy unless there is the opportunity of improvement in the offer for KPHS students and this has not been the case sufficiently with MATs explored previously. At this time, however, there is a Headteacher in post with experience of the increased autonomy and accountability that comes with being an academy and there is a local MAT at the start-up phase with the same values and principles about inclusive academic achievement as KPHS has developed in the last few years. The financial opportunities (while never as great as sometimes assumed) this could generate in terms of being more free to capitalize on the receipt of our budget in its entirety, while always a benefit, are more important now than ever as we anticipate need in a post-lockdown world and we would like to be able to consider how we allocate our funds in the round more comprehensively going forward. Therefore we are consulting now, as we believe there are opportunities for KPHS that should be explored more fully.
Who is part of the consultation?
We invite contributions from any of our stakeholders, this includes staff, parents, local partners and residents etc.
What are the differences for the staff?
The staff are employed by the Trust rather than by the LA, but their employment terms and conditions will remain the same.
What are the differences for the students?
In most practical ways the students will not notice a difference, they will still attend school as normal and in many ways the changes we would make over the next few years are ones I would want to make as headteacher anyway – things like developing our curriculum so it has more breadth – however, becoming an academy in partnership with Altus means some of those improvements can happen in a way that better connects with this local community and its ambitions for its students.
Would the term dates change? Would the uniform change? Would the name change?
Term dates are planned well ahead of time so there would be no change to any already published. In all circumstances KPHS would work with local schools to fall in line with local patterns in any year, as now.
The name is not going to change – we will still be KPHS.
It is possible that the uniform may change, although all schools have this option anyway regardless of status. If there were any changes with any unforeseen costs, we would support our families with those and there would always be notice of such decisions, as now.
What happens next?
We now want your views on the question.
“Should KPHS convert to academy status and join Altus Education Partnership?”
We have set up a page on the school website where you can find a brief statement and a copy of this letter. To contribute to the consultation e-mail:
by Monday 22nd March, 2021. Please write ‘Academy,’ in the subject line of the email. We will collate comments, questions and views which will be discussed by governors before making a final decision later in the spring.
You can find out more about Altus, which is a working Multi-Academy Trust opening a new school in Rochdale in September 2021 and currently running Rochdale Sixth Form College by visiting their website altusep.com
We will be updating our website throughout the consultation period with relevant information and there will be an online consultation evening on Tuesday 2nd March from 4pm when you can hear from us and ask questions. More details will follow about how to join this meeting later in February.
You can also email questions in through the usual communication routes.
As always, if you have questions on any matter – please contact us, even while it is half term, we will monitor emails and will respond as soon as we can. Please keep looking after each other at this difficult time and stay safe.
Additional Consultation Questions Received 5th March 2021
The questions are summarised and by theme, not be which stakeholder group they have come from to protect everyone’s anonymity; they are from the open consultation meeting on 2nd March and from emails and questions received to date:
1: Will there be any change in the school’s responsibility towards SEND or vulnerable students?
No – all schools must follow statutory legislation about their responsibilities in this area and this does not change with academy status. There is the possibility that we should capitalise on the change in status and funding to improve our provision in this area however and this is part of our strategic planning.
2: Will there be any change in the school’s curriculum model as a result of academization, would this be directed from elsewhere or would there be changes to KS4 options for example?
No – Altus does not run a prescribed curriculum model and therefore KPHS would remain in control of this; however, Altus is a local MAT and will hold leaders to account robustly for outcomes, and the relevancy of the curriculum model for our community, our workforce and for the appropriate progression of students into further education. On options – we do want to broaden our KS4 offer and you will see this take place for 2021-22, but this is not because of academization – it is to best provide the widest set of opportunities for KPHS students. Academy status could support us with this in allowing the better use of our funds to achieve this, but our moral obligation to improve this offer exists anyway.
3: Could staff be forced to work in a different location/school within the Trust?
While there are some MATs that direct this, Altus presumes each school manages its own budget and resource (including staff) so there would not be a direction to work elsewhere.
4: Would there be opportunities for staff to progress in their careers through collaboration across the Trust?
Yes – and this would evolve over time as a result of good collaborative working – it is linked to the question above in that opportunities to work across a Trust are an exciting possibility, but those relationships must develop so there is trust and so that no-one is directed into a situation that is not in their, or KPHS interests. Altus is a MAT that understands this responsibility towards organizational culture which is one of the reasons for recommending this be the Trust we join.
5: Would KPHS retain its own support staff or would there be contract companies brought in as in some MATs?
KPHS would retain all its own services and would not use contracts for them.
6: Would the Trust have or direct a staffing model that might lead to job losses?
No, Altus does not have a staffing model that would be expected or imposed. Altus and KPHS would work to manage our budget in line with the principle of best value, and KPHS would retain autonomy over its decision making unless it became financially not viable; this is no different to the current principles, in which we design and answer for our own staff costs in line with our own planning, curriculum model and numbers.
7: What are the risks of joining a small MAT as opposed to a larger one?
The risk of a smaller MAT is around sustainability – but this in itself is caused by risks of reputation or of financial instability. Altus manages Rochdale Sixth Form College which has a good and secure reputation, and is opening a new secondary school in Rochdale in September 2021. As a start up, the risks associated with it are not reputational and any financial risk is already managed within its opening process. Altus as a MAT is financially strong, as is KPHS, meaning that both reputational, and financial risks are minimal – so any risk to the sustainability of Altus is minimal too. The risks to the loss of our specific KPHS identity and local ethos are much greater if we joined a larger MAT and retaining that localism is at the heart of our – and Altus’ – philosophy.
8: What would the Management fee be – ie the contribution KPHS makes towards the central services of the Trust?
Altus is planning for 5%, which is broadly in line with the sector average and is off set by the gains we would make by then not purchasing additional services. The principles of partnership already agreed would facilitate transparency around its use, the value KPHS received for this (ie it must be better than current services via LA or contracts in place) – and dialogue around bottom line costs if services were not in place or reduced in costs over time due to economies of scale.
9: What would the governance structure be?
Altus has a clear scheme of delegation (see website) which devolves powers to the LGB in a similar way to those it holds now under the terms of the Foundation Trust system. The significant change is that the formal accountability would rest with Altus rather than the Foundation Trust. Altus does demand local governance is robust and valued, rather than removing too many of those principles to the centre which again makes it a good fit for us.
10: Does Altus have a long-term expansion plan?
Altus is open to expansion in the future but holds a place-based ethos which determines that it will not expand out of geographical range (ie out of reach of real and achievable collaboration for local students – so Rochdale and the surrounding areas are those in which we can make a difference; there is no plan for arbitrary expansion on a wider scale than that). However, Altus is also set up to ensure that it can also provide quality education to our students even without expansion and that is the priority. Good relationships with the LA and other MATs will always be more important than the number who formally become part of Altus. Together, KPHS and Altus are aware of the risks to young people and to education caused by the pandemic, the resulting unpredictable accountabilities system and the particular needs of our communities and will work without fear of any of those issues to do the best for our current community first and foremost and in all situations.
Update 11th March 2021
TU Reps Meeting 8th March 2021
The main questions from this meeting followed up on two key areas:
1: The reasons for the decision to consult and to consult particularly with Altus:
The Headteacher provided wider context as submitted to the governors regarding the reasons for the decision and answered in previous questions here in summary.
2: While acknowledging that there would be a TUPE consultation if the decision is to proceed, assurances were sought that T&Cs, pay and pensions would continue uninterrupted, so there be no disadvantage to staff.
The Headteacher agrees that should there appear to be a detriment to the staff arising from this at any point then we would wholly reconsider – Altus does not intend to move away from STPCD, or LGPS and support staff scales and this is a key consideration in the decision to consult to join this local MAT.
Further discussion took place on curriculum models (as staff have asked) and the degree of autonomy the school would retain over decision making, especially where it relates to staff numbers and jobs; the Headteacher was able to reassure that the Altus model is one of high autonomy for schools over decision making, and, as now, we would continue to be responsible for managing that in line with finance/numbers on roll, internally, with Altus providing challenge and accountability to ensure the school retains its healthy financial position.
The Headteacher noted that the CEO at Altus is aware of the current effort to generate equitable pay across similar roles for those holding TLRs in the 2A or 2B range (ie to try to remove continued “temporary” roles, or non-typical amounts and secure permanency for people) and is supportive of this, even though it potentially means some salaries would rise slightly to ensure fairness – and this cultural value of staff is a positive reason again why Altus is our considered choice at this time.
SLT Consultation Meeting – 09/03/21:
Questions and answers:
What would governance structures look like?
The Foundation Trust would cease and its responsibilities would transfer to the MAT, along with the employment responsibilities from the LA. The LGB (becomes an “advisory” board) and has delegated powers through the Scheme of Delegation (see Altus website). It is likely many of the current LGB would be re-appointed to the new board and that their responsibilities would be similar – sometimes there is less weight on local boards to oversee finance matters and those statutory roles transfer more to the MAT.
Would partnerships with current schools – eg MiddTech – be maintained?
Yes, those are within our power to determine – and Altus supports local collaboration in all forms.
Would there be opportunities for staff to gain career development through joining Altus?
Yes, in principle, though the reality of this may take time to evolve as EWA is starting only with Y7.
What is Altus’ long term vision for growth/impact/ethos?
It holds a place based design and ethos so is committed to local provision over arbitrary expansion. There is ambition – and a recognition that co-operation can be valuable even without schools formally joining Altus – but all priorities are about developing a local MAT of choice, not an “empire”.
Would there be opportunities for savings, eg through economies of scale in purchasing?
Yes, and again this will take some time to evolve, but all possibilities are “on the table” including operating principles (eg orders, purchasing models) that might save.
Is there an Altus “IT” or “Data” model that we would have to follow?
No – a recent exchange about Arbor demonstrates that Altus would respect our management of our own systems and budgets, we would simply be held accountable for our decisions and actions with rigour.
How would accountability lines work – eg Head/SLT reporting to Trust and/or LGB?
It is possible there will be some duplicate reporting initially, this is not uncommon in new MATs, but the principles of collaboration to agree working practice will be respected and KPHS can play a role in defining what happens to some extent too.
Would we change our uniform/brand?
Not necessarily – this is likely to be our decision and we can reflect on the benefits of changing or not. We are likely to keep the name: KPHS, possibly to add “An Altus Academy” to the tag line in formal branding. But- there are opportunities here we could choose to capitalise on.
Would there be subjects support roles in Altus? Or uniform assessment options?
Potentially, over time there would be subjects support, and assessment support – but it involves aligning curriculum content too and that would take time and need to be strategic in the design.
Is there any Altus “model” – eg staff, timetable, curriculum? Would we have freedom over this?
There is no Altus model for staffing structures or curriculum models, we would be joining a “high autonomy/high accountability” model in which we must determine what is best for our community, as now, and be able to justify and evaluate this securely.
Further updates will be available 22nd March.
Where questions were already answered in the launch letter, they have not necessarily been repeated here – but all have been responded to.