This is my report of the visit Tony Cross and I made to the Red Kite schools in Harrogate and a summary of the questions and answers from the day.
Tell us some achievements that would not have occurred without the schools being in an academy?
The schools are stronger together which benefits the young people, we were given examples of better provision of music lessons, support for projects, support during a recruitment process and bespoke HR advice.
Headteachers/Principals can concentrate on the classroom and what is best for children while Red Kite can deal with the issues like faulty alarms and broken boilers.
When asked further about how collaborative work will look for us it was suggested that local schools will actually collaborate more once there is a formal agreement. Red Kite have recently supported senior leaders with designing a curriculum due to a lack of local experience.
They see the trust consisting of 4 clusters- Harrogate, TNLP, Pudsey, North West Leeds.
There is no ambition to grow further or increase the geography. The CEO has been challenged to maintain a local knowledge of senior leaders and the challenges/ successes they are experiencing.
Speed of future growth?
Red Kite aren’t looking to rush- Aim for TNLP completion is April 2018 along with 2 other schools.
When asked about how they will deal with taking on 9 schools and being outnumbered the response was that they aim to grow resources at the same rate as capacity grows.
The TNLP schools are also well established and it is unlikely that huge levels of support will be required immediately.
What’s in it for us? (TNLP)
- Reinforcing existing partnership structure
- ‘Insurance’ as Red Kite and local schools will have a vested interest in our success
- Wider, more diverse network
- Greater resilience (fill gaps in service provision and school improvement) and a strong regional/national voice
- Operational efficiencies
- Talent management and progression opportunities
Why consider TNLP schools?
Red Kite are deliberately looking for strong partners rather than growing rapidly with risky schools. We also have
- Skills, knowledge and capacity that in cases is ahead of Red Kite E.g. Free School development, governance processes, school improvement processes
- A larger scale improves financial capacity which will improve support for schools
- TNLP has a wider children’s service agenda
- Red Kite have been encouraged by what they have seen and heard from the Department for Education
- Shared values- working together for young people
Richard Sheriff also addressed questions about aggressive/cloning multi academy trusts, the quick fix approach and issues regarding flawed intake processes. The members, trustees and governors of Red Kite feel that this approach is morally wrong and want to show a different and better approach as an example for other academies.
Western Primary School Visit
We initially spent time with the Chair of governors and the headteacher asking them about the following-
Why did they join the academy?
Western is a historic feeder to Harrogate Grammar school and was a big part of the Red Kite Alliance, academisation felt like the next natural step. The school has maintained all local community links and operates independently to its own vision but now has a greater level of support.
Examples of support?
A recent performance issue with a struggling newly qualified teacher was dealt with in a much more professional, timely manner and with more support than they have previously experienced with the local authority.
The headteacher also felt that now they were an academy they were free to seek relevant specialist advice in special educational needs (before they relied on the local authority). The processes are quicker and specific to the children attending their school.
What happens if Richard Sheriff can’t be contacted? What if something is not up to an expected level?
Plenty of support available from his team who can be contacted. An appointment can also be made with his personal assistant.
The CoG is also a trustee for Red Kite and said there is a process to escalate issues to the trustees and members if things aren’t satisfactory. The trustees are also looking at whether extra support is needed for Richard Sheriff in the future.
What has changed with governance?
The local governing board operates as it did before, this school has recently changed the number of governors and meetings but they are free to recruit new governors and continue the work to improve the school.
How does staff progression look?
There is a greater opportunity for teachers to move schools but as a primary school they haven’t lost members of staff to secondment as they need the same amount of teaching staff as they did before.
Joining the academy has given teachers better access to leadership progression & personal development. There have also been opportunities for individuals to support the trust and build their knowledge (with the school receiving payment for days in which these teachers are used)
What are the negatives?
Both the headteacher and chair struggled with this question. There have been system changes which have been difficult for the office staff but they felt that overall the change has been positive or hasn’t made any difference to the way they operate.
Following the questions, we were shown around the school by 4 children in Year 6 and a deputy headteacher. It was clear that the school had maintained its own identity. The children we met across all the year groups were confident, happy and well-rounded. They talked enthusiastically about music, art, sport, their favourite teachers and the project work they were doing.
The only mention of Red Kite came from the deputy who mentioned that a recent school project required torches and they were able to easily borrow these instead of purchasing them, the school could also now share access to the same music teachers as the high school which improved continuity for the children and gave early access to larger or more expensive instruments.