County High in bid to unite Uttlesford’s schools


SWCHS - Credit: Archant

EDUCATION standards could be further improved if primary schools decide to join the same academy trust which runs Saffron Walden County High under a cutting-edge new model.

Talks have been held between Saffron Academy Trust and primary schools across the district about the possibility of teaming up to share expertise and assist with the complexities of converting to academy status.

The move could lead to the creation of an Uttlesford-specific curriculum with the aim of further improving the level of education in the County High’s feeder schools.

Part of the vision is for teaching resources between the primary schools signed up to the trust to be shared, along with procurement costs and back office functions. It is hoped there would also be potential to attract high quality staff through career development opportunities.

Headteacher at the County High, John Hartley, said: “One of the things the Saffron Academy Trust is interested in is the idea of ‘local learning partnerships’ with the possibility of having a local family of schools in north Essex.

“This would have oversight of education for children in the area to try to ensure teaching and learning is continuous and progressive from the ages of four-19.

“Certainly there would be the opportunity for schools to make sure the curriculum reflected the needs of local children.”

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When asked whether the new model could be a blueprint for the education system in the future, Mr Hartley replied: “It’s too early to tell because there is a lot of change going on, but partnership working between schools is a good thing.

“We see there being clear educational advantages with the sharing of ideas about teaching and learning and the raising of standards.”

Chairman of governors Mark Hayes, who heads up Saffron Academy Trust, said the vision was to assist primary schools in the face of Government pressure to convert to academies.

Academies are state-funded but privately-run schools. They operate independently of their local education authority, have more freedom to innovate and do not have to follow the national curriculum. Several primary schools in the area are already academies, including RA Butler and St Thomas More in Saffron Walden.

“We are giving primary schools the opportunity to come under the wing of Saffron Academy Trust, if that is what they want,” Mr Hayes said. “Rather than each primary school creating its own academy trust independently, we are looking at developing a local model which would, in effect, replace the local education authority.”

Chair of governors at Katherine Semar Junior School, Jackie Sweeting, confirmed the governing body had held talks with Saffron Academy Trust but had chosen not to proceed any further.

She said: “We are not ruling it out in the future but decided it wasn’t the right way to go. For smaller schools in the district it makes sense because otherwise it would be totally unviable to become an academy. They would need something like Saffron Academy Trust to support them and share costs because one of the biggest considerations is the financial implications of gaining academy status.”