Partnership and School Management Arrangements
School partnerships are where our smaller schools share resources, experiences and are managed by the same Headteacher. Over the next few months, we will be reviewing school partnerships in Dumfries and Galloway.
The following communication is designed to support Headteachers to respond to any questions that staff, parents and pupils may have about the plans to progress with the review of partnerships and management arrangements in schools in Dumfries & Galloway.
As part of the Cluster Working Review, key reasons behind partnering our schools in 2013 were:
- the creation of non-class committed Headteachers who can concentrate on school improvement and curriculum development;
- maximise the opportunities created by Curriculum for Excellence for children in small rural schools through strategic planning;
- easing transition to secondary school;
- greater continuity of learning and teaching;
- to create a career development and succession management pathway;
- to address difficulties of recruitment of Headteachers and staff to small rural schools;
- to create greater budget flexibility and hence make better use of available resources; and
- to keep small schools open wherever possible.
These reasons have proven to be highly relevant, and remain aligned to our current work, however the context in which we operate has changed. In the intervening period we have seen the introduction of both 600 and then 1140 hours of Early Learning & Childcare (from 475 hours); the school's empowerment agenda has continued to accelerate, placing increased demands on Headteachers, along with a significant decrease in central support offered to schools; and our population is changing, growing in some areas but declining in others (overall our primary pupil rolls have decreased by over 500 children since its recent peak in 2015 and the projections indicate this will continue). Since the review in 2013, some schools have closed. The challenge we have faced is that every decision made as to how our schools are managed through these changes has, by necessity, been bespoke and has not been able to follow a consistent approach.
A short-life working group involving representative headteachers, principal teachers and non-teaching staff who may be impacted upon by this review, have developed the following communications to support school communities through any changes in management arrangements within their school should they occur.
Q1. Why are you reviewing the partnerships and management arrangements now?
A. Communities in Dumfries and Galloway continue to change. There are different working patterns, people have moved in and out of communities and this has led to some of our communities growing and some getting smaller, and this is impacting on the rolls in some of our schools. In recent years we have seen a decline in our pupil population across the region. This is predicted to continue. Most of our schools have less children attending. This has led to some of our smallest schools closing due to there being very few or no pupils attending them.
We need to make sure that we are able to adapt to the changes that happen to our schools. We do this by monitoring our school rolls and the impact that fluctuations have on how they are run. As such, it is appropriate for us to look again at our partnering arrangements.
Q2. When, if any, will changes take place?
A. Any revised partnerships will take place from August 2023. Thereafter partnerships will be monitored annually in line with tracking pupil rolls (see below Q 9 & 10) and potential triggers as identified in the Strategic Framework.
Q3. Will my school be impacted?
A. Education & Learning Committee Members agreed the Principles behind the formation of partnerships in March 2021. This document can be found here.
The guiding principles are as follows:
- The roll of each school (including nursery roll, where applicable) should not exceed 100 and a school should be removed from a partnership management arrangement if their roll consistently exceeds 100;
- All Headteachers should not have a permanent class commitment;
- Any new or revised management arrangements should seek to minimise requirements for traveling significant distances (over 20 miles);
- Any new or revised management arrangements should seek to involve the shortest distances possible;
- A trigger with one school may have wider reaching consequences due to a need to provide the best long-term solution instead of a temporary arrangement;
- All primary school partnership management arrangements should be limited to two schools only;
- There is no requirement to limit management arrangements to one secondary cluster if that is to the detriment of one of the other principles, and they will take precedence over the principle of keeping schools within the same cluster.
If your school is affected by one or more of the Principles above, then they will be impacted.
Q4. Our partnership is working well. Why is it changing?
A. When carrying out a review of arrangements it is critical, in the interests of transparency, fairness and equity, to review all schools at the same time to ensure schools are being viewed within the same criteria.
Q5. Why are triple school partnerships being reduced to two school partnerships?
A. For some of our schools, we need to make changes to the current management arrangements:
- Some schools which were previously partnered may no longer be partnered.
- Some schools which weren't partnered will now be partnered with another school.
- Some schools which were in a three-way partnership may now be moving to a two-way partnership. *
- And some current partnership schools may have a new partner.
* This is to ensure that Headteacher workload is managed effectively wherever possible.
Q6. What are the principles of this review?
The principles, as agreed at Education & Learning Committee in March 2021 are as follows:
Empowerment agenda impact
The roll of each school (including nursery roll, where applicable) should not exceed 100 and a school should be removed from a partnership management arrangement if their roll consistently exceeds 100;
All Headteachers should not have a permanent class commitment.
Minimising carbon footprint
Number of schools in a partnership
All primary school partnership management arrangements should be limited to two schools only.
Schools now work with secondary schools as required, to ensure effective transitions for their pupils. There is no requirement to limit management arrangements to one secondary cluster if that is to the detriment of one of the other principles, and they will take precedence over the principle of keeping schools within the same cluster.
Q7. Why a reduction from a maximum of 150 children in a partnership to 100 children?
A. The Cluster Working Review in 2013 agreed that schools of less than 150 pupils should be partnered. In the intervening period there have been significant changes to how schools operate, and the demands placed upon them. By reducing the threshold means that the job of Headteacher should be more 'doable'. The maximum roll therefore to any partnership can be 200. Existing arrangements were that schools of less than 150 pupils should be partnered, thus a potential maximum roll of 300 (450 if a triple school partnership) split over two or three locations.
Q8. Where is the evidence that current partnerships of up to 150 children are not performing?
A. See answer above (Q7).
Q9. What would be the point of dismantling an established partnership for the sake of an arbitrary number?
A. This is not about dismantling partnership but ensuring all school communities are treated in the same way through the Strategic Framework.
The triggers which will ensure that we continue to monitor our schools are described in the Strategic Framework, are:
Closure/mothballing a school - impact on school
Headteacher recruitment challenges
Annual reduction in pupil roll exceeds 20% of total roll
Overall school roll reduces to below 100
Average 3-year pupil roll changes by 20%
It is important to note however, that it is not intended to change partnering arrangements every year. The triggers above allow officers to maintain a view to support future decision-making about the management of the school or schools affected.
Q10. The prospect of potential annual partnership changes due to fluctuating school roll seems strange, affecting continuity and stability for pupils, staff and parents.
A. See Q.9. There is no intention of changing partnerships every year. The approach ensures school rolls are monitored and potential changes highlighted at an early opportunity to ensure officers can engage with stakeholders to agree next steps, rather than reacting to situations which emerge. This will include assessing schools' potential future rolls.
Q11. If this is a money saving exercise, how does changing successful partnerships help? Is it ultimately the plan to close small schools?
A. This approach is not designed to spend less on education. Indeed, there will be an increased number of partnerships formed. Small schools remain at the heart of our communities and this approach is designed to continue to support them.
Q12. If concerned with our carbon footprint; why break up partnership schools that are within five miles of one another and in the same cluster?
A. Wherever possible schools will be partnered with their nearest appropriate school. By applying an approach across all schools in Dumfries & Galloway, this may not always be possible.