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Learning lessons

What can housing learn from other sectors? Antonia Forte blogs on her experience of collaboration in education in Barry.

As some of you will know, I chair the governing body of a secondary school in Barry. Many of the issues of good governance are the same whichever sector is involved, and there are particular points of commonality given that education is also a public service.

I would urge those who are looking for board exposure in order to increase their skillsets, to actively consider getting that exposure outside the housing field, where having a majority of board members who are also working in the sector can have unintentional consequences.

However, what I think could be of interest at the moment is an approach that we have taken to improve our collaboration with the other English medium secondary school in the town. Education is taking a big hit in terms of a new formula for funding, and finding better (and more cost effective) ways of providing support and services (cleaning, energy, accountancy, ICT, admin, etc) obviously helps protect the teaching (service delivery) capacity.

Of more importance, though, is the need to provide as wide an educational offer (in terms of curriculum) as possible to students in Barry – especially around non-core subjects and extra curriculum activities.

The need to collaborate has been recognised by both schools over a number of years, but translating this aim into practice is difficult when there are two independent organisations that are also in competition with each other for things like staff appointments, pupil numbers, sponsorship opportunities for new facilities.

With the appointment of someone whose sole aim is to implement collaboration whilst at the same time being tasked with ensuring the best for both schools, we think there is a better chance of true collaboration – and therefore more efficient working – being realised.

So, taking advantage of a particular set of circumstances, two sets of Governors joined to appoint an executive head across the schools in order to establish and imbed a culture of collaboration between both: these schools will remain independent, with their own operational heads, and at the end of the fixed-term appointment it is intended that the executive head role will cease, and the two governing bodies will ‘revert’ to appointing head teachers. Or not, depending on what the circumstances suggest at the time.

This is a novel, though not unique approach – and one that may be of interest to other sectors. We are all clear that this is not a merger, or even a federation – and are fiercely guarding our independent identities. What happens will be fascinating. Watch this space.

Antonia Forte is chair of WHQ’s advisory board

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