Pioneering group of mixed schools


The Guardian, in an article last  week, reviewed the state of the government’s education reforms. Amid all the normal stuff about free schools and academies, and the latters performance, it looked at the Barnfield group of schools, which is pretty radical in its own right. In Luton, it has established a group of schools that in effect recreates the role of the council. A local cluster has been formed, which began  in 2007, that includes two (south and west) academies, a free school and a studio school, which specialises in vocational education. The two secondary schools were   significantly underperforming. However, in under three academic years, GCSE results have more than tripled in both academies and from a position of special measures, they are now judged as ‘Outstanding’ and ‘Good’ by Ofsted. These are the highest results achieved in the history of these schools. The Barnfield Federation – which hopes in future to run schools for profit – has the collective financial muscle to commission services that all its schools need. But within its cluster, there is considerable diversity. Its studio school, for example  open since September 2010, is the first of its kind in England: a small school for 14- to 18-year-olds that leans strongly towards vocational education. The other is a former prep school, Moorlands, which became a free school last September, and where the head describes the ethos as a “high standard of education with small classes”. The Federations Vision is “To be Britain’s highest performing federation, where customer and community needs are met, students are happy, successful and reach their full potential” The atmospheres in the two schools are sharply contrasting, says the Guardian.It reported that   ‘On a recent visit to the studio school, a group of teenagers were studying the barest bones of a Shakespeare play. The storyline of Romeo and Juliet had been cut up into single-line plot points, and the children were busy trying to assemble them into the right order. The school has a florist, gift shop, hair salon and restaurant attached, giving pupils work experience. It forges close links with local businesses including Monarch Airlines, preparing children for jobs in the retail, hospitality or service industries. At Moorlands primary school, housed in a cream-coloured Victorian villa, seven- and eight-year-olds are learning French. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” says the teacher, displaying a picture card. “Le fromage – French people like lots of cheese.”  At another picture, a girl shyly tries to pronounce “chocolat”. It doesn’t come out quite right and the teacher prompts her: “Just try, we’re going to try again.” The teacher enunciates: “Sho-ko-la … très bien.”  At Moorlands, acting head Chris Sillars said that although it is now state-funded, the “culture and ethos has remained the same – maintaining the ethos is key to what we’re doing”.  Mark Cronin, principal of the studio school, outlines three “pathways” that children in Luton’s schools might take. “Pathway A are your A* standard ones. They are your high flyers; the best choice for them is probably the English bacc [baccalaureate – good GCSEs in English, maths, history or geography, two sciences and a foreign language]. They have the choice of doing single sciences, languages, humanities. “Pathway B children will have the opportunity of doing a language, humanity, and a vocational subject, but not the English bacc. “Pathway C children are those who probably haven’t achieved quite at the national average. Everyone does their core subjects still at GCSE, but they might be steered towards vocational BTecs,” he says.

More schools are entering partnership arrangements with other schools in the form of formal or loose federations, trusts or chains. There is a growing trend, of which Barnfield is a part, to build high aspiration and attainment on a multi-school rather than  an individual institution basis.

Note: The Federation is led by the Barnfield Education Partnership Trust – members of the Federation include Barnfield College (16 years upwards), Barnfield South and West Academies (11-18 years), the country’s first FE sponsored Studio School (14-18 years enterprise academy) and Barnfield Moorlands Primary School (4-11 years).  There are further academies joining the Federation this year


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