Case study: Regional education federations

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A federation of schools and colleges in Norfolk has become the first sub-regional federation of its kind in England. Dick Palmer explains.

Imagine a world in which school and college heads were free to focus all of their energies on enhancing teaching and learning, in which there was strong sub-regional collaboration to improve outcomes for all, and where there were clear progression routes with relevant pathways for all students.

An impossible ideal in today’s increasingly competitive and ever more fragmented education marketplace? Well this is precisely what is being created here in Norfolk, thanks to a new federation: Transforming Education in Norfolk (the TEN Group).

The TEN Group is the first sub-regionally based educational federation of its kind in England, although perhaps not for long as there is strong interest from schools and colleges elsewhere in the country in adopting the Norfolk model. So how does it work?

At its heart, the federation is about bringing together a group of like-minded institutions who are committed to improving education and skills for young people in our county. 

The organisations working together to further this ambition include the largest further education college in the county (City College Norwich), two academies (City Academy Norwich and Wayland Academy Norfolk), and a new University Technical College (Norfolk UTC, opening in 2014).

The new federation also has strong affiliations with the University of East Anglia and a high-performing local independent school, the Norwich School, alongside numerous employers in the region.

While the TEN federation only became a legal entity on September 1 last year, the aforementioned organisations were already collaborating closely, partly because that is how we like to work, but also because of their involvement in the sponsorship of the two academies and the UTC.

Taking the step of joining together into a federation – which entailed not just a commitment to partnership but also allowing the TEN Group to appoint the majority of governors for each institution – was only possible thanks to a shared vision across the institutions around the direction we wanted education in Norfolk to take. By working together, we are committed to providing greater opportunities for our students. The shared values of the members of the TEN Group can be summarised as: 

  • Placing the student at the centre of all that we do.

  • Driving up educational standards and outcomes for our students

  • Ensuring that our students are fully prepared for the future and next steps in their chosen careers.

  • Ensuring that we develop our students into individuals who are resilient and capable of responding to an uncertain future

  • Developing as learning institutions, sharing our best practice with one another, and developing the group so that it becomes more than just the sum of its parts.

The members provide seamless curriculum mapping and progression routes across partner institutions for pupils and students, creating economies of scale to enable innovation and develop coherent models of learning across institutions.

One of the distinguishing features is that we have created a shared services organisation within the group – Norfolk Educational Services – in which the large majority of non-teaching functions sit (everything from finance and HR to facilities and site management, IT and data-processing to libraries and marketing).

As well as bringing significant potential for cost-savings through joint procurement, this crucially relieves each of the member institutions of many of the day-to-day administrative tasks that can divert significant time and energies away from our core purpose: learning and teaching.

The positive corollary of this freedom from the constraints of having to spend large amounts of time on non-teaching related matters is that each institution has much greater freedom to innovate and collaborate to improve the curriculum offer and the quality of learning in the classroom, workshop or work-related learning environment. 

Within the federation we have, for example, developed a strategy – working with the SSAT – for improving English, which has been identified as a common challenge within each of our institutions. 

We are working on a disruptive learning infrastructure – a technology-enriched learning model, driven by student demand. We have also seen valuable exchanges of knowledge and practice around extra-curricular activity, such as sessions on developing students’ understanding of equality and diversity issues.        

The members are also collaborating around the development of enterprise and entrepreneurship skills within the curriculum. This involves staff sharing expertise, as well as giving students from all three institutions opportunities to come together around enterprise challenges and activities. This sort of collaboration encourages the sort of creativity in learning that Sir Ken Robinson argues is all too often lacking in our education system. 

It is still early days, but the partnerships which paved the way for TEN Group have already been buoyed by some fantastic results across our institutions. City Academy Norwich, for example, has charted a particularly inspiring and impressive course since opening as an academy in 2009 with a specialism in digital technology. 

From being in special measures as Earlham High School, City Academy Norwich, under the leadership of principal David Brunton, has transformed student achievement and the whole culture and ethos.

Working together as a group also dramatically strengthens the opportunities for establishing clearer progression routes for all students. Pupils and parents can now see clear progression pathways through the stages of formative education, helping them to aspire with a confidence denied children in earlier years.

A consistent and co-ordinated approach to working with employers across the federation is also ensuring appropriate access to work-placement opportunities, providing an evolving skills training and education curriculum that is reactive to future employment and community needs.

If, as we hope to be able to do in the near future, we can extend membership of the TEN Group federation to local primary schools, this would open up the potential of locally based progression pathways that can be followed through from the age of five right up to a degree or advanced or higher apprenticeship (City College Norwich has a large higher education provision with more than 1,500 students on degree courses). 

All of this is supported by our established and strong links with employers in the county. To a greater extent than other models of federation and partnership, all of the partners in TEN Group have a strong vested interest in the educational and economic success of our local area.

At a time of year-on-year reductions in education budgets, the capacity for greater efficiency that comes from pooling our resources and sharing our services is also not to be underestimated. Partners in the TEN Group were the beneficiaries of a grant from the Association of Colleges to develop the sharing of services, and to date we estimate that this work has already saved close to £1 million, and we expect cost-savings of a further £3.45 million over the next five years.

By working more efficiently and cost-effectively as a group, we are able to ensure that within each institution more of the public purse goes exactly where we want it: on frontline teaching and learning.SecEd

 

• Dick Palmer is?group chief executive officer of the Transforming Education in Norfolk (TEN Group) and City College Norwich.

 

CAPTION: Norfolk united: Wayland Academy in Thetford (top) and City College Norwich are among those in the Trans-forming Education in Norfolk federation.
 


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