Signage for war graves in the United Kingdom
The Diocese of Norwich has 111 schools and academies within its boundaries educating over 20 per cent of the primary aged children in the area; that’s around 16,000 pupils plus a further 1,000 in our two secondary schools.
What a privilege and responsibility! It’s one we take extremely seriously as we play our part as ‘system leaders’ in a fragmented education sector. Our church schools serve their local communities, welcoming those of all faiths and none, and are proud of their inclusivity.
Following consultation with Headteachers and Chairs of Governors we published our ‘Education Strategy 2018 – 2023’ this April. Inspired by the promise of Jesus in John 10 of ‘life in all its fullness’, the Strategy sits firmly in the Diocese’s Mission Strategy 2021. It reflects the words in Ephesians 3: 20 recognising that with God we can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. It states that:
Our passion and ambition is to see children in all our schools and academies achieve excellent educational outcomes alongside developing and growing into their potential as individuals made in the image of God. Our culture is one of high aspiration rooted in our Christian values as demonstrated in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Our schools will be recognised by their distinctive values and the achievement of high standards! The Revd Andrew Whitehead says:
‘In my role as a Team Vicar, I spend a lot of time at Cawston Church of England Primary Academy. The Christian culture of the school family is abundantly clear in all areas of school life, from the school gate to the Governing Body and out into the wider community. This culture is demonstrated through a balance of genuine pastoral concern for everyone in the school family and an expectation that we will help each of our pupils to fulfil their potential.’
The other key message in the Education Strategy encourages schools to work even more closely together in ‘hard-wired school improvement clubs’. In national terms, 50 per cent of our schools are classed as very small, with fewer than 100 pupils, and 85 per cent are classed as small, having fewer than 200 pupils. Most of these serve their local village or market town.
Since the year 2000 schools across the Diocese have been working together in formal arrangements, usually called ‘federations’, where one Headteacher and one Governing Body has responsibility for more than one school. These federations are usually in groups of two or three, but our largest federation is now six schools working successfully together.
This model enables schools to develop their staff and leadership teams more effectively and hence ensure standards in schools are maintained at a high level. Helen Frier, Deputy Headteacher & Special Educational Needs Coordinator at the Pilgrim Federation says: “As a non-teaching deputy and SENCo I can put a greater focus on driving up standards across all subjects, but in particular, we have had a focus on maths. I can support staff whenever I am in their school and develop strategies to deliver the curriculum across year groups. It also means that I can scrutinise pupil progress and ensure that children are getting the support they need to ensure good outcomes.”
The other model being encouraged is to join one of our two Diocesan Multi Academy Trusts (DMATs). There are now 40 schools in our DMATs, with others actively exploring this option. This way of operating gives an even closer working relationship between schools as they are all part of one larger organisation (an independent company), but still very much part of the Diocesan family of schools.
This model supports staff development and, critically, staff recruitment and retention, which helps in succession planning. There are numerous examples of staff career progression within our first DMAT, which is a win–win situation.
This was recognised by Ofsted when they visited in March. They recognised the ambition to become an ‘employer of choice’ and highlighted the “entrenched mantra of ‘growing your own’ teaching teams…” despite “a landscape of national and local challenges in teacher recruitment, retention and supply … there are currently very few gaps across the Trust’s workforce.”
There is a belief that we are collaboratively developing something really special within the Diocesan family of schools and academies. In his introduction to the Strategy, Bishop Graham encourages everyone to support it and to “pray for the wider family of our schools and academies. They are key to the future of thousands of young people.” A significant responsibility but one we carry out with joy and hearts of service!