The school is currently working with the Stowe Valley Multi-Academy Trust to join the trust from September 2020. We have started our consultation with parents on 23rd January 2020 and this consultation will close on Friday 14th February 2020. If you have any questions or comments, please do email the school office or complete a form which can be found in the office. These responses will be used as part of our decision making process.
The school is also working with Priors Education Trust to take over the management of the Nursery. This is again currently in the consultation stage and the closing date is Saturday 29th February 2020.If you have any questions or comments, please do email the school office or complete a form which can be found in the office. These responses will be used as part of our decision making process.
Thank you to all who managed to attend the parents' information evening on Thursday 23rd January. It was a very useful session and some very interesting questions were asked.
Please find the PowerPoint that was used for the evening below.
Parent Questions about the MAT
What is The Priors School?
The Priors School is a free school. This means that we are funded directly from the government and are not attached to the Local Authority in any way. As a free school we are classified as an academy in our own right. We are therefore classed as a Single Academy Trust.
Why is the school looking to join a MAT?
As part of the governors’ ongoing duties to secure the future of the school and ensure it is sustainable, discussions about Multi-Academy Trusts have been held regularly for a period of time. The reasons for these discussions stem around the need to be financially sustainable, offering the best provision for children and staff and direction from the government.
On 14th June 2019, Ms Moore (Chair of Governors) and Mr Emms were invited to a Trust Review Meeting with the Regional Schools’ Commissioner (RSC) and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to review the school as a single academy trust. Although this was a positive meeting, the message came through that we should consider joining a MAT. Luckily, the school was already looking at options as part of our own on-going strategic and sufficiency work. We also received a letter from Lord Agnew, the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for the School System, stating “I am writing to you as the chair of a single-academy trust to encourage you to join a multi-academy trust.” This letter is available on the school website for you to read. It is important to note, that although the academy agenda from the central government has not been pushed as widely in recent times, the focus is on single academy trusts joining multi academy trusts. On 6th February 2020, the DfE released their guidance for issuing additional funds to Trusts to increase capacity. the link to the document is below and The Priors School would fall into Category C for this.
With regards to finances, the school is managing, but with increasing costs and outgoings it is becoming more and more difficult to break even. You can find our most recent accounts on the school website, which show we had to use reserves last year to continue to offer the education we do. During a recent telephone meeting with the ESFA, we were described as a vulnerable school due to us using these reserves and our status as a small school. This is not uncommon for small, rural schools and the DfE have commissioned a number of studies into this issue. We have published the latest study on the website. It must be noted that joining a MAT is presented as a solution within this report.
As part of a MAT, we will reduce expenditure on a number of things such as HR, communications, site management, utilities, accounting and auditing. If we remain as a single academy trust, these types of savings could only be made through changes in staffing. The governors felt that it was in the best interests of the school to invest time and energy into choosing the correct option for The Priors School, before a decision was made for us and we had to join a trust of the State’s choosing. This has led us to begin investigating different options to safeguard the future and integrity of the school.
What options have the school explored?
There are three possible options in the table for The Priors School.
Over the course of the past 18 months the governing body have explored these options in great detail. Whilst remaining as a SAT has a number of positives, we believe that the future of education is shifting away from this model and that in the future the school will be forced to join a MAT, not of its choosing. With the current funding situations in schools, it will become more difficult for SATs to exist and run efficiently and joining a MAT is the only way to ensure economies of scale and allow us to continue to thrive.
We also spent a lot of time exploring the possibility of creating our own MAT with like-minded schools. We worked on this for over six months, but felt that with only two other small school partners this would not produce the financial efficiencies we would be looking for. There was also an element of risk with this option, as we would have had to put in an initial financial input to purchase the ‘back end’ services required for running a school. Another issue we came across, was the other schools were church led, so we would have been a member of a mixed MAT. Due to constitutional requirements of church schools, this would have resulted in the leadership of the MAT requiring a majority of church members, thereby giving them a greater say in the running of our school.
The third option, joining an established MAT, was the option we decided to pursue. With an established MAT, the back end services are already in place, the organisation has been set -up and it is possible to see if a MAT is successful and has a similar ethos to our school. Of course there are potential drawbacks, such as potential relinquishing of control in some areas of the school, and these will be explored fully during the due diligence process.
Why Stowe Valley?
We looked in detail at a number of different trusts, including trusts in Warwickshire, Birmingham, Banbury and Witney. These MATs all had different models, including a hub model, charity led and school led. These options were presented to the governors, and it was felt that the best option was to explore our local partner first, as we already have a strong working relationship with a number of the schools. The governors asked Mr Emms to find more information, and he spoke to two primary heads and the CEO of the MAT. Following these meetings, it became apparent that the ethos and philosophy of the Stowe Valley MAT matched that of our school and a number of benefits were presented to us. This was fed back to the governing body and we believe the best option is to explore this in more detail, and we have done this through meetings with members of the MAT and other head teachers. We have also seen staff questionnaires from all schools in the Stowe Valley MAT, which were overwhelmingly positive. We have also taken time to talk with the Chair of Governors from a primary school within the MAT who painted a very positive picture of what it is like to be within the family of schools.
Will The Priors lose resources by joining the MAT?
School funding is based on a per-pupil funding formula, so the school will receive its core budget based on the minimum funding guarantee and this will be ring-fenced for The Priors School. Therefore, the school will not have funding diverted from it.
As a SAT, we have to fund a number of back office resources ourselves, including HR, payroll, legal, insurance, communications, computer software, information management system, audit and accounting. These come at a great cost to the school. By joining the MAT, these expenses will be centralised. The school will pay a “top slice” towards these, from a percentage of our per-pupil funding. By being part of a larger body of 5000 pupils, we clearly can access more central resources than the amount we put in.
Will the school keep the money it raises for itself?
All funds raised on behalf of the school will be solely for the school to spend. This money will not be taken into the central pot.
We have been successful over the past few years in applying for grants. We can still do this, and will be able to access these pots. We will not be able to apply for the Condition Improvement Fund, which has been used to build our new lobby and replace the flat roof in the EYFS. However, the MAT receives and annual capital fund, based on a per-pupil formula. Last year, Stowe Valley attracted around £500,000. The Priors School will be able to access this money if required.
Does the school currently not have access to LA resources?
As a free school, we are independent from the LA. Any resources we use from the LA, we have to pay for. Furthermore, due to funding constraints, the LA are continually being stripped back with fewer resources and services on offer.
Does being part of a MAT help The Priors with compliance?
The Priors is currently compliant in all areas set out by the ESFA, DfE and Charities Commission. However, the financial and governance compliance frameworks are being extended every year. With each new update, the school have to expend a large amount of resources, both financially and with working hours, to ensure we meet these standards. With a larger back office team, governors and trustees and leadership teams, remaining compliment become easier for the school, and we can focus on the important part of our job – teaching your children.
What specialists will The Priors have access to?
Being part of a large organisation clearly allows the sharing of best practice to happen. There are regular leadership and phase team meetings to ensure that all members of staff can learn from each other. We can also share the cost of professional development to ensure all staff have access to the most up to date thinking and ideas. By being partners with secondary schools, we will have access to specialist resources and teaching, such as PE teachers, language teachers and science teachers and this currently happens within the MAT.
Why are you only looking at one MAT?
Joining a MAT is a two way process and involves a lot of work. The governors have decided to explore our local partner and they have also agreed to begin the process. No decision has been made yet, as we have to conduct due diligence (of which engaging stake holders is a part of this). At any point during this process, either party can withdraw if it does not feel right. If this was the case, the governing body will begin to explore other options for the best of the school.
Will you lose pupils as a result of joining the MAT?
The Priors School currently has 82 pupils on roll with another two children pending. This puts us at our capacity of 84 children. We have also received 20 applications for our 12 Reception places next year. We have a growing reputation in our local area. We do not believe joining a MAT will have a negative impact on our pupil numbers, as we will still be The Priors School, with our own individual child focussed way of doing things. There are predicted decreases in the birth rate over the next few years, but this is counteracted with the number of new houses being built and our location on the edge of two counties. It must be noted that we were predicted to have fewer applications than our pupil admission numbers this year.
Will The Priors maintain control of its own staffing?
From our research and discussions, the answer to this is yes, although the MAT are the employers. If we wish to employ an additional member of staff, we would have to produce a case as to why, but as we maintain control of our own budget, as long as this does not push us into a deficit position, this will not be challenged. The MAT cannot employ members of staff using our budget, if we do not agree with this deployment. Staff will not be moved to other schools, unless there is a desire to do so from all sides.
As we are currently not even in the due diligence stage, no contracts have been drawn up and guarantees written in stone, however all indications show this to be the case. If the contracts are not satisfactory during due diligence, the school has the power to withdraw from process.
Have you consulted the staff?
A consultation has been held with all staff, who have been given the opportunity to give one to one feedback. No objections have been raised.
Why is this consultation so short? Is it genuine? Has a decision been made?
There is no legal duty for the school to consult on these changes, however, we felt it was best practice to speak to all stakeholders. This is an informal consultation as part of the due diligence process. The feedback from parents is important to the school. However, it is important to note that this process has been ongoing for 18 months with a number of discussions held by the governing body and a decision has been made to explore this option. It is not a knee-jerk reaction and is not a decision made in haste.
This is a genuine consultation. The governors have made the decision to explore joining The Stowe Valley MAT. The consultation is about whether we should join this MAT. If the resounding feedback from parents is negative, of course we would take these views on board when deciding whether or not to continue with due diligence. In the presentation, it states in the Next Steps slide - “Join the MAT by September 2020”. This is an indicative timeline to show expected time frames, and in no way a presumption that this is what will happen.
We have to be very clear, that no final decision has been made regarding joining the MAT. There are a number of steps to take before even coming close to the contract stage. Both parties need to conduct due diligence on a number of items, including ethos, curriculum, finances and buildings. If, at any point, something does not work, both parties can withdraw from the discussions. If, at the end of the due diligence process, the governors believe it is still the correct decision for the school that is when a final decision will be made. This decision will also need to be ratified by the RSC and the Head Teachers board for Warwickshire.
How does joining the MAT affect changing our age range and incorporating the Nursery?
Extending our age range is separate to joining the MAT. This is something we would like to do regardless. The intention is to have this paperwork agreed by the middle of the year- before joining a MAT.
What advice has the school taken?
Mr Emms has been on a governing body of a school who has joined a MAT previously and went through this process. The RSC would also allocate the school a support worker to help us through this process. When we begin the due diligence process, we can access some funding from the DfE to support us with costs, so that we can source legal and accounting advice to help us make an informed decision.
Will the parents have another opportunity to have a say in this decision?
Ultimately, the governing body are the proprietors of the school and have the school’s best interests at heart. If decision is made to pursue due diligence and this is all successful and satisfactory, with a unanimous vote, this will be shared with parents. We would look to hold another parents’ meeting to share this you, although this would not be a consultation.