The Future of Connaught School, Aldershot

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Hampshire County Council is proposing a structural solution to the under-performance and future viability of The Connaught School, Aldershot

Hampshire County Council is proposing a structural solution to the under-performance and future viability of The Connaught School, Aldershot. The County Council is consulting on 4 different options aimed at raising educational attainment and outcomes for the children of Aldershot. Whilst the consultation identifies a preferred option we are interested to hear your views and any other viable options you consider would help achieve these aims.

This consultation will run from 4 July until 30 September 2016. Officers will then take into account all the consultation responses before making a recommendation to the Executive Member for Education, Councillor Peter Edgar, on which option should be progressed and which statutory processes are therefore required.

Educational standards

The Connaught School has performed relatively weakly on attainment measures for the past three years despite significant attempts to improve its performance. In 2015 29% of students attained 5 good GCSEs including English and mathematics compared to a national average of 57%. This places the school well below the minimum Government Floor Standard of 40%. Over the past two years the School’s leadership has been diligent in its pursuit of improved performance in an attempt to drive up standards. However, improvements have not materialised and the Council recognises that another approach is now needed in order to ensure that present and future pupils have a high quality educational offer.

The Connaught was judged ‘satisfactory’ by Ofsted in 2011, then ‘requiring improvement’ in 2013 and again in March 2015. The current Ofsted framework requires that any school receiving two consecutive ‘requiring improvement’ judgements must, on a third inspection, either be deemed good or be placed in special measures. The Connaught must therefore be judged good at the next inspection (due in April 2017) or it will be placed in special measures.

The overall effectiveness and performance of Connaught’s feeder primary schools has improved significantly since 2011. Of the ten primary schools in Aldershot three, including Belle Vue Infant, are currently judged by Ofsted to be outstanding and the remaining seven are judged to be good; no primary schools are requiring improvement or in an Ofsted category. These schools work in strong collaboration. The performance of Rushmoor primary schools is an educational strength with 86% of pupils attaining the national standard in reading, writing and mathematics in 2015 compared to 80% nationally.

Pupil numbers

Hampshire County Council has a statutory duty to ensure there are sufficient school places across the county and to promote high educational standards. The need for school places changes in response to population movements and birth rate variations. In Hampshire the primary school population has been rising for the past 8 years and is forecast to continue to do so. At the same time secondary numbers have been declining but are now forecast to rise in keeping with the growth in primary age children.

There are four mainstream secondary schools within the Borough of Rushmoor; The Connaught, The Wavell, Cove and Fernhill. Cove and Fernhill serve students primarily from Farnborough. The Wavell is in the heart of Rushmoor and serves students from both Aldershot and Farnborough. The Connaught is sited on the edge of Aldershot town and tends to serve students from Aldershot.

The Connaught is in very close proximity to the Hampshire/Surrey border. There are several more popular and generally higher performing Surrey secondary schools nearby: Ash Manor is within half a mile (Ofsted – good in 2012); All Hallows RC is within one and a half miles (Ofsted – outstanding in 2014), Farnham Heath End Academy is within two miles (Ofsted – requires improvement in March 2016) and Weydon Academy is within 4 miles (Ofsted – outstanding 2009).

The Connaught School has a published admission number of 170 with the capacity for 850 pupils. In spring 2016 there were 542 pupils on roll. Given a school’s budget is largely determined by the number of pupils Connaught’s budget share is relatively small and this has a negative impact on the breadth of the curriculum which the school can afford to offer, limits the school’s ability to use allowances to attract and retain staff, and limits the extra curricular activities that can be offered to pupils.

The 4 options being considered

1: Maintain the current position; make no change

The Council believes this is no longer a viable option because the community could and should be better served by its local secondary school. There is insufficient evidence or confidence that the school has the capacity to secure the rapid and sustained performance required, nor to turn around its long-standing relatively weak reputation which is having a negative impact on student numbers, the budget and consequently the quality and breadth of educational provision.

2: Find a strong academy sponsor to improve outcomes at the school

A viable option would be to find a strong academy sponsor to take over the running of the school. Academy sponsorship has been successful in some parts of the country with schools securing higher attainment because of the drive and expertise good sponsors can offer. In Hampshire, we currently have 6 sponsored academies. Their combined attainment fell in 2015 to 40% which is the Government’s minimum National Floor Standard. They have not delivered a step change in performance in Hampshire to date.

This option would offer a ‘re-branding’ of the school which may be beneficial and lead to the school becoming the first choice for some catchment students who would otherwise go to either Surrey schools or other Hampshire schools. It could also potentially offer the school greater flexibility to recruit and retain staff of high calibre; however this would be dependent on decisions of the sponsor regarding budget, pay and conditions.

3: Merge The Connaught with The Wavell

This would be achieved by closing The Connaught and retaining The Wavell as an expanded secondary school but retaining The Connaught site, thus offering split site provision.

The Wavell has a strong reputation in the community and has higher standards than the national average. The Wavell benefits from strong leadership and good quality provision. The higher standards of The Wavell would influence positively those of students who traditionally would have attended The Connaught. It would increase internal capacity through a larger staff, a wider and more experienced leadership team and the potential for staff to work within a ‘critical mass’ of good practitioners. It may also reap the benefits of a wider curriculum offer. There would also be the potential for economies of scale and would assist the integration of the AUE community across Aldershot, through the split site arrangement.

This option does mean that there would only be one secondary school serving Aldershot thus limiting parental choice.

4: Merge The Connaught School with the Federation of Newport Junior School and Belle Vue Infant School, to create a single all-through (age 4 to 16) school

This would be achieved by closing The Connaught School and Newport Junior School whilst retaining Belle Vue Infant School and expanding its age range to 4-16. The new 4-16 School would operate across the three existing sites.

This is the Council’s preferred option.

This proposal maximises the potential for continuity of culture and educational experience across the key stages, bringing with it a number of inherent advantages linked to high expectations and aspirations, already well-established within the two primary schools, which are already in a federation. Belle Vue Infant School and Newport Junior School have both secured significant improvement since the federation was formed and the appointment of the current headteacher in 2006.

Both have been judged by Ofsted as good or better for over five years. The overall effectiveness of Belle Vue Infant School was judged by Ofsted to be outstanding in March 2016. Outcomes show an overall trend of performance which has been significantly above the national average over a sustained period of time. Consequently they are popular schools with a strong reputation in the locality.

There is strong capacity across the current federation and there would be the potential for economies of scale. It would retain the possibility of wider collaboration within the family of all Aldershot schools moving forward. Leaders and governors of Belle Vue Infant School and Newport Junior School recognise the benefits of structural change, having experienced these through the federation, and acknowledge the need to strengthen secondary provision in Aldershot, in order to build on good outcomes in the primary phase.

This increases the likelihood of the Belle Vue Infant and Newport Junior communities being open to consideration of a merger, recognising the potential benefits it would offer local children.

What will happen regarding applications for admissions to Connaught in September 2017 and beyond?

Option 1

This requires no change to the admissions arrangements.

Option 2

For September 2017 children in primary to secondary transfer make applications in the usual way and offers will be sent, based on parents’ preferences that can be met, at the beginning of March. If the Connaught School is academised and part of a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) in September 2017 then the new school will admit all those children offered a school place through the admissions round process.

Going forward the MAT may change the admission arrangements for the new academy, any changes would first apply in September 2018.

Option 3

For September 2017 children in primary to secondary transfer make applications in the usual way and offers will be sent, based on parents’ preferences, at the beginning of March. Children with an offer for either of The Wavell School or The Connaught School will be admitted to the newly merged school with an expectation that they attend the site that they applied for.

Going forward the new school, operating from two sites, would serve the newly enlarged catchment area (made by adding together the current catchment areas). The HCC policy would apply (so priority to catchment children) and measurements, if applying the tiebreaker to decide the ordered list of applicants, will be by straight line to the reception on the nearest school site.

Parents can only apply for their school place and not the site that they would like their child to attend. The authority would help the school collect information from parents regarding their preferred site and the school would need to decide which site children attend.

Option 4

The timetable behind the consultation is such that, if you have a child in year 2 at Belle Vue Infants or in year 6 at Newport Juniors, you will need to apply for your preferred junior/secondary school place using the normal processes. If an amalgamation is approved then offers to Newport Junior School and Connaught School will be honoured at the newly amalgamated school in September 2017.

Going forward, if the all though 4-16 school is approved, pupils in the Belle Vue infant phase will move automatically to the Newport junior phase. When in year 6 children may automatically transfer into the ‘Connaught’ secondary phase. Both those transitions can be achieved without making an application as it is equivalent to moving between year groups as your child stays within the same school. If a family does not want their child to progress into the next phase in that school they may apply for another junior or secondary school place during the autumn of the year when their child starts in year 2 or year 6 respectively.

The authority will publish revised admission arrangements for the amalgamated school that, if the amalgamation happens and the proposed timetable is followed, will apply first for admissions in September 2018. The admission number for the admission of children from schools other than ‘Newport Juniors’ to the new school’s secondary phase will reduce in line with the likely intake of children moving to secondary from year 6 of the amalgamated school. There is no intention to change the admission number for the Reception intake (currently 90). The catchment area for Belle Vue Infants/Newport Junior school will continue to apply to the primary phase of the amalgamated school and the existing Connaught School catchment will apply for the secondary phase.

What will happen to staff if a school closes?

The single senior leadership team and governing body of the new amalgamated school would determine the staffing structure designed to deliver the curriculum on two or three sites. It is anticipated that almost all staff would transfer to the amalgamated school.

Consultation will take place with all staff who may be affected by the proposal and with the professional associations and trade unions. The retention of high quality staff is a crucial element in the County Council’s drive for improving educational standards and raising pupil achievement.

If schools are amalgamated, will staff undertake teaching on two or three sites?

In the first instance consistency is the key to minimal disruption. The large majority of staff will continue to teach on the school site where they are presently located. Some staff with specific responsibilities such as subject leaders or members of the senior leadership team may be required to work across different sites, for example to conduct quality assurance and development activities.

Drop-in meetings in July

There will be opportunities for parents, pupils and other interested members of the community to meet with Hampshire County Council officers where more information will be provided and you can ask questions and comment on the proposal. Comments made and issues raised will be fully considered before any decision is made.

Drop-in meetings for parents and other interested parties will be held at:

Additional meetings may be arranged for September 2016 if required.

How to take part in the consultation

Please give us your views at any of the drop-in meetings and/or by using our online consultation response form.

Consultation dates

The consultation starts on Monday 4 July and ends at midnight on 30 September 2016.

A report on the outcome of the consultation and recommendations on the action to be taken will go to the Executive Member for Education in November 2016, with a target date for implementation of any new structure between January and September 2017.

Next steps

The responses to the consultation will be carefully considered. If a proposal to amalgamate schools is taken forward, the Council will move onto a second, formal stage of consultation involving the publication of statutory notices. These will propose the closures / amalgamations and/or change of age ranges and provide another opportunity for you to make comments on the proposal which would be fully considered before a final decision.

We anticipate that these public notices will be published in November/December 2016 for a 4 week period during which representations can be made. Any representations will then be taken into consideration before the County Council decides whether or not to proceed with the proposals. If the proposal to seek an academy sponsor is agreed, then the formal academy process will be followed in line with DfE guidance.