‘Exciting future’ ahead as two small South Downs schools form a federation

Two small village schools in the South Downs have agreed to form a federation after working in partnership together for two years.

Monday, 18th May 2020, 12:33 pm
Gillian Keegan MP during a visit last year to review the first year of the schools' partnership

Rake Primary School and Rogate Primary School have come together to form the Downland Village Schools Federation – the first all-new primary federation in West Sussex since the county council published its new strategy two years ago.

David Bertwistle, executive headteacher, said: “I am hugely proud of what has been achieved at both schools while we have been working in partnership.

“Whilst it has been hard work all members of the school community have benefited – children, parents, staff and governors...I am excited to have the opportunity to show how much more we can all do.”

Governors at Rogate Primary School initiated the move towards partnership with Rake Primary School two years ago, to save their school from likely closure, Mr Bertwistle said.

As a result, the school had its ‘academy order’ rescinded by the regional school commissioner.

The two schools and their governors began to collaborate by co-ordinating their curriculum and school improvement plans, arranging joint STEM and arts days, visits and sports coaching for their pupils.

With money raised from local charities by the governors, they have upgraded the schools’ IT infrastructure and linked them with a joint Microsoft 365 platform, enabling staff to share work and resources freely and to manage virtual meetings and introduce more modern systems.

Last September, Rogate achieved a good rating from Oftsed, having previously been told to improve, and three weeks later Rake retained its good rating following an inspection.

Mr Bertwistle said: “It turns out that Rogate was a good school, with a great team, just needing a fair chance.”

In the Spring term, the schools finally decided to launch a formal ‘statement of intent’ to federate and started a six-week consultation involving surveys of parents and staff at the two schools.

After a review last week, both boards of governors voted unanimously to form the new federation, dissolving the two existing boards of governors and forming one new board of 12 members.

Neil Ryder, chairman of governors at Rogate, said the future prospects looked ‘exciting’ and said: “We are the first new federation in West Sussex since the local authority brought out its new ‘school effectiveness strategy’ in summer 2018, encouraging small schools to group together, and we’ve had to work hard to find our own way through this maze...

“It’s not been easy but that we think we are now showing there is a good future for at least some of our small village schools – that we are managing to hang onto the specific strengths of both schools while building a more sustainably viable future and a better pupil experience for both.”

Nigel Jupp, West Sussex cabinet member for education and skills, said: “I congratulate both schools for this considerable achievement, which is the result of much detailed planning, cooperation and hard work by so many.

“It is especially pleasing to see the positive results this partnership is already having on all members of the school communities, especially its pupils.

“Rake and Rogate are a shining example to schools who are looking to form partnerships that an open mind and a willingness to share resources and expertise can have big benefits for all, and we will support schools through the

process.”

Gillian Keegan, local MP and parliamentary under secretary of state at the Department for Education where she is the minister responsible for apprenticeships and skills, said: “Rake and Rogate are brilliant examples of how schools can work together to enrich their education offer to children.

“Their partnership to date has already provided children with fantastic opportunities such as their joint STEM day which I enjoyed attending last year.

“I am thrilled this collaborative approach is continuing and deepening as it will only further benefit the education of their pupils and secure the future of small rural primary schools.

“I look forward to my next visit, when possible, to congratulate the governors, leadership and staff in person.”

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