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Primary Review for parents

Our changing borough: the effect on primary school places

The council is working with schools to reduce the number of unused school places in parts of the borough. This will ensure that our schools continue to provide the highest standards of teaching, learning and achievement.

Why is the council reviewing primary school places?

There have been lots of changes to the borough's population in recent years.  The number of children being born in the borough is reducing and more families are moving out of the borough before their children reach primary school age.  This has led to a number of unsused places at primary schools across the borough, with schools in some areas finding that they have more unused places than they would normally expect.

The funding that schools receive from central government is based on the number of children they have registered.  Therefore, when a school's number of children is lower than expected it receives less funding and this can mean that the school finds it difficult to retain and or recruit enough teachers and support staff to maintain high standards of teaching and learning.

The council has the responsibility to make sure that its school places are organised in a way that helps all schools to continue to maintain high standards.

Read our changing borough

Read the letter from Christine McInnes, Divisional Director for Education & Partnerships, Tower Hamlets

What does this actually mean for schools?

We are considering ways in which schools can build on existing relationships.  One approach is by a group of nearby schools establishing a formal partnership. This will enable them to reduce the number of unused places in their area by organising themselves in a way that will help them to make the best use of their funding and other expertise. This type of partnership is called "a school federation", with a single governing body responsible for the governance of all schools in the federation.

Another approach is for two or more schools to join together to create a new school on one site.  This would also reduce the number of unused places and allow the new school to have enough registered children to receive the levels of funding that would ensure there were no teaching or other staff shortages. This is called a "school amalgamation".

The approach will depend on the local area and the schools involved

For a school where the numbers of children are very low and it is not possible for it to join a federation, or be part of an amalgamation with a neighbouring school then the council will need to consider whether the school should close. However, the council will only consider this if it is in the best educational interests of the pupils concerned as keeping the school open would inevitably lead to a fall in teaching standards.

The council would ensure that these children could be transferred to other nearby schools and that, where possible, staff would have the option to be redeployed within the borough.

What schools will be affected?

The review is focused on schools with high levels of unused places in the west of the borough - in the Bethnal Green, Stepney and Wapping areas. However, we have not yet decided on proposals for the future of schools in these areas.

When proposals are decided they will be for changes to take place from September 2020 at the earliest.

Who will be involved in the decision making process?

There will be no decisions on changes to how schools are organised without first consulting with school communities and the wider public on the proposals.  In the Autumn term 2019, there will be an initial round of consultation for the schools concerned and a further borough-wide consultation between November 2019 and January 2020 (timing may vary for individual schools).


These consultations will include events where pupils, parents, staff and the community are able to share their views, ask questions and raise any concerns they may have.

FAQs

Answer:

The local authority has a statutory duty to ensure all pupils have access to a high quality school place, but falling school rolls and budget pressures could affect the sustainability of schools and their ability to maintain high standards.

Tower Hamlets has experienced a great deal of demographic change in recent years which has meant that primary school rolls have not grown as quickly as the population. Young families are increasingly moving out of the borough and birth rates are falling. This has resulted in a surplus of primary school places overall. In 2017/18, one in ten of the borough’s Reception places went unfilled.

However, there is a stark contrast between the situation in the West and the East of the borough. Whilst areas in the West have seen falls in the demand for primary school places, areas in the East have seen increases. Projections indicate that this situation will worsen over the coming decade.

At the same time, schools are experiencing pressure on their budgets because of changes to the National Funding Formula. This worsens when schools have unfilled places and schools with high levels of surplus face significant financial challenges.

The local authority is therefore undertaking a review of primary school places to maximise the potential of the borough’s high-quality primary schools and to ensure that:

  • schools are able to maintain and improve the quality of education
  • all children have access to the right school place at the right time
  • parents in all areas of the borough continue to be offered a choice of provision
  • schools are working together in collaboration, not competition and 
  • public resources are used efficiently and effectively.
Answer:

The local authority is committed to developing solutions together with schools. Before starting the review, the local authority established the Primary Review Advisory Group which is includes headteachers from all sectors, as well as representatives from diocesan boards, the Council of Mosques, the Greater London Authority, the office of the Regional Schools Commissioner and the early years sector. The role of the advisory group is to advise on the review process and assist in reviewing options for change.

Through this group, an agreed set of evaluation criteria was used to identify which schools would be in scope for review. The primary criteria were a school’s level of surplus places and parental preferences, but other factors such as a school’s building and educational offer were also considered. 16 primary schools were identified as in scope for review across the Bethnal Green, Wapping and Stepney catchment areas.

The local authority is working in partnership with the leaders of these schools to develop possible solutions throughout the Autumn and Spring terms. This work is being led by an independent consultant who is an experienced headteacher, governor and former Director of Children’s Services. Through discussions with the schools in scope, some ideas have been put forward for partnerships with other schools not identified as ‘in scope’ (for example, secondary schools) and these schools are also being involved in this work.

Once proposals have been developed by the local authority and school leaders, the local authority will consult with stakeholders throughout the Summer and Autumn 2019 terms. The proposals and consultation results will be presented to Cabinet who will make the final decision.e local authority is committed to developing solutions together with schools. Before starting the review, the local authority established the Primary Review Advisory Group which is includes headteachers from all sectors, as well as representatives from diocesan boards, the Council of Mosques, the Greater London Authority, the office of the Regional Schools Commissioner and the early years sector. The role of the advisory group is to advise on the review process and assist in reviewing options for change.

Through this group, an agreed set of evaluation criteria was used to identify which schools would be in scope for review. The primary criteria were a school’s level of surplus places and parental preferences, but other factors such as a school’s building and educational offer were also considered. 16 primary schools were identified as in scope for review across the Bethnal Green, Wapping and Stepney catchment areas.

The local authority is working in partnership with the leaders of these schools to develop possible solutions throughout the Autumn and Spring terms. This work is being led by an independent consultant who is an experienced headteacher, governor and former Director of Children’s Services. Through discussions with the schools in scope, some ideas have been put forward for partnerships with other schools not identified as ‘in scope’ (for example, secondary schools) and these schools are also being involved in this work.

Once proposals have been developed by the local authority and school leaders, the local authority will consult with stakeholders throughout the Summer and Autumn 2019 terms. The proposals and consultation results will be presented to Cabinet who will make the final decision.

Answer:

16 primary schools in the Bethnal Green, Stepney and Wapping catchment areas have been identified as in scope of the review, but no decisions have been made about the future of any of these schools. The local authority, through an independent consultant, is working together with these schools to develop proposals for how school organisation may change. Some ideas have been put forward for partnerships with other schools not ‘in scope’ (for example, secondary schools) and these schools are also being involved in this work. These proposals may include hard federations, amalgamations and school relocations. More detail about each of these three options will follow. No changes will be implemented before the 2020/21 school year.

The review will not affect the organisation of schools in the east of the borough or schools in the west of the borough that are not in scope of the review, unless these schools have asked and/or agreed to be included. However, the primary purpose of the review will be to address the number of surplus places in the west of the borough.

Answer:
The local authority believes there should be no compulsory redundancies or major changes in staff’s terms and conditions as a result of the review. If, however, voluntary redundancy or redeployment options need to be considered, trade unions would be involved, staff would be supported through the process and training would be provided.
Answer:

A ‘hard’ federation is where two or more maintained schools come together under one governing body while retaining their individual identities. There are different ways federations work in practice:

  1. schools may or may not share a budget
  2. schools may or may not be led by an executive headteacher and
  3. schools may or may not join together as an academy trust.

Federations would enable schools to more easily share resources, staff, expertise and facilities in order to improve sustainability and the educational offer across the federation. They would likely operate on a locality model, and could be implemented as soon as 2020/21.

Staff

For staff, federations provide several opportunities:

  1. more Continuous Personal Development (CPD) and opportunities to learn from one another
  2. opportunities to work across schools and progress within the federation
  3. opportunities to develop different models of leadership, for example where a head of school focuses mostly on teaching and learning while an executive headteacher focuses on the ‘business side’ and
  4. greater job security through increased sustainability of the school.

Governors

For governors, a federation would mean that the schools’ individual governing bodies are disbanded and a new single over-arching governing body is formed. This would become the accountable body for all the schools involved and these roles could offer opportunities for more strategic governor roles. The local authority will work closely with governing bodies of schools affected to help them decide on the process and the best governance structures moving forward.

Parents and pupils

For parents and pupils, federations would offer opportunities to improve the quality of education in schools across the partnership through:

  1. a better, broader offer for pupils – both curricular and extra-curricular
  2. more resources and opportunity to employ specialist staff
  3. better recruitment, training and retention of teaching staff and
  4. more innovation to improve teaching and learning.

Wider community

For the wider community, federations would not result in significant changes to each individual schools identity, but will help to improve the quality of education across the federation.

Answer:
An amalgamation would bring together two (or more) maintained schools as one single school, located on the same site and under the same leadership and governance arrangements. Amalgamation would reduce the number of surplus places in the area and ensure that the resulting school would have a stronger pupil roll and improved sustainability. The earliest that an amalgamation could be implemented is the 2020/21 school year and there may be a transitional period for all of the schools concerned.

Staff

For staff, amalgamation will mean that they effectively work in a new school. It would be for the school leaders and governing bodies to agree on the ethos and approach of this new school. It could mean a change of location, depending on which school site the ‘new’ school occupies.

Governors

For governors, an amalgamation would mean that the schools’ individual governing bodies are disbanded and a new single over-arching governing body is formed to support the new school. The individual governing bodies would need to work together to agree the ethos, approach, and governance structure of the new school. The LA will work closely with governing bodies of schools affected to help them decide on the process and the best governance structures moving forward.

Parents and pupils

For parents and pupils, it would mean the effective closure of the existing schools and the creation of a new school with greater resources to invest in teaching and learning as well as extra-curricular activities. Pupils attending the existing schools would continue on at the new school which may mean a change of location, depending on which school site the ‘new’ school occupies. Amalgamations will be considered carefully to minimise impact on school communities, including considerations of distance to school, availability of places and faith school preferences.

Wider community

For the wider community, it would also mean the effective closure of the existing schools and the creation of a new school onto one of the existing sites. This will enable the local authority to ensure that:

  1. children across the borough continue to receive a high quality education
  2. children have access to a suitable school place in their local area
  3. the local authority is using public resources efficiently and effectively to deliver the best outcomes for children and families and
  4. to provide opportunity for school sites to be used to support other activities to promote learning in the community.
Answer:
Future housing development will be focused in the east of the borough and to meet an increasing demand for school places, the local authority has identified nine potential sites in the Poplar and Isle of Dogs catchment areas to deliver new primary schools. 

There is a facility for the local authority or governing body of a maintained school to propose the transfer of an existing school into a new site, rather than commission a new provider.

This would mean an existing school could retain its staff and other key resources to provide continuity of existing high quality provision, serving a new community in Tower Hamlets. This would also reduce the number of surplus places in the schools existing community, and help to strengthen the rolls at other schools.

The earliest a school could relocate into a new site would be the 2022/23 school year, based on the availability of new school sites. Relocations would also involve a transitional period over a number of years so that pupils would not be forced to move to a new location at critical stages in their education.

Staff

For staff, this would mean the need to eventually relocate to a different area of the borough if they intended to stay at the school, although the transition over to the new school site will likely be phased over a number of years. Staff would benefit from working in a newly built school and would have greater job security through working in a school with increased sustainability. Alternatively, the local authority will work closely with neighbouring schools to maximise the opportunities for staff to transfer to another school that is near the existing site.

Governors

For governors, the relocated school will provide opportunity for the school’s existing governance structure to continue, however consideration will need to be given to a governance structure which is representative of the new community that the school will serve. There may also be a need to increase the size of the governing body in accordance with the size of the school in its new location. The local authority will work closely with governing bodies of schools affected to help them decide on the process and the best governance structures moving forward.

Parents and pupils

For parents and pupils, the relocation of a school will be timed in such a way that it does not significantly disrupt the education of existing pupils as they move between the key stages. There would also the opportunity for existing pupils to continue at the school in its new location with the local authority providing the necessary travel assistance in line with its statutory obligations.

Wider community

For the school’s existing community, it would mean the effective closure of the school in that area, however this would help to strengthen the rolls at other schools and in turn help to improve the quality of education. The school’s new community within the borough will benefit from the delivery of much-needed, high-quality school places in their local area.

Answer:

The table below provides an outline of the review process and timescales. However, in cases where schools have requested a faster timescale, the local authority will work to achieve this.

Decision timescales
PhaseTimescales Review activity 

Phase one

Developing proposals


August 2018 to March 2019


The independent consultant is working together with school leaders to develop proposals for changes to school organisation. Proposals will be discussed and agreed with the local authority and school governing bodies.

Phase two

Soft consultation


March 2019 to July 2019

 
There will be localised consultation activity with each school or group of schools which are affected by the proposals, to get views from staff, parents and the school community. The proposals will be reviewed in response to feedback from the consultation and firm proposals will be determined. 

Phase three

Statutory consultation

July 2019 to January 2020

Firm proposals will be reported to Cabinet in Autumn 2019 with a recommendation to formally consult on the proposals, under the requirements of the prescribed school alterations. This will be a borough-wide consultation with all stakeholders. At the same time, the local authority and affected schools will work together to put implementation plans in place.

Phase four

Decisions

February 2020 to August 2020

 Final recommendations will be reported to Cabinet in February 2020 for a final decision. Following this, there will be school-level and borough-wide communications to inform all stakeholders of the decisions and how changes will be implemented.

Phase five

Implementation

September 2020 onwards

Changes to school organisation begin to be put in place. There will continue to be school-level and borough-wide communications throughout.

 

 

Answer:
It is important that all stakeholders have an opportunity to fully consider the proposals, ask questions, share their views and raise any concerns they may have.

The intention is to consult with headteachers early in the Summer term. After this, there will be individual consultations for each school (or group of schools) where changes are being proposed. Separate events will be held at the school for staff and parents.

Once this first round of consultation is completed, the resulting proposals will be presented to Cabinet in Autumn 2019 with a recommendation to formally consult. If agreed, the statutory public consultation would commence soon after and would include further events, meetings with the wider community, and a survey.

The results from these consultations would be reported back to Cabinet with final recommendations. Cabinet will make the final decision on the proposals.

Answer:

The earliest any changes can be implemented will be the 2020/21 school year, however the timescales for implementation will depend on the particular proposals and the circumstances under which they can be lawfully implemented.

Answer:
Although the Primary Review is aimed at reducing the number of places in certain areas of the borough, any changes will not affect the local authority’s ability to ensure that it provides enough school places. The aim is to reach a position where the local authority and schools are confident that the right provision is in the right place at the right time.
Answer:

The Primary Review is likely to include proposals for formal partnerships between schools, such as federations, as this can help to improve educational opportunities and pupil outcomes through:

  1. a better, broader offer for pupils – both curricular and extra-curricular
  2. better recruitment, succession planning and retention of staff
  3. more resources and opportunity to employ specialist staff
  4. more Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for staff and opportunities to learn from one another and 
  5. a greater capacity to innovate.

Partnerships will be necessary for schools to maximise their available resources and sustain high quality education given the future funding challenges.

 

We will keep you updated as the primary review progresses