How we did it

Merging a secondary with a group of primaries isn't easy - especially when you can only travel between them by boat. Paul Mulligan explains

Discussions about bringing together the schools on the Scilly islands into a federation have been going on for years. This time last year we had five schools - a small secondary and a similar sized primary on the main island, St Mary's, and a small primary on each of the three smaller islands, Tresco, St Agnes and St Martin's, one with only three children. Now there is just one school, based on St Mary's, but incorporating the smaller institutions.

There was a fair bit of opposition - in any community people like to maintain the integrity of their individual service. But bringing them all together has allowed us to provide a seamless education for children aged three to 16, and given us the opportunity for all sorts of collaborative and exciting projects.

When the federation was launched in April 2002, we faced two challenges - to ensure that best practice in one part of the federation was aspired to and reflected in the rest, and to ensure that the whole federation felt like one school. One difficulty is the geographical separation - on the mainland three miles is not that far, but being separated by three miles of fairly turbulent water adds to the challenge.

Despite this we now share pastoral procedures and aims. We have a whole-school self-review process, and a whole-school professional development process.

We have a single school uniform, a school logo and one name - the Five Islands School.

The three headteachers on the smaller islands, or off islands, have remained as assistant heads. This gives us a vital leader on each site and allows the smaller schools to preserve their unique features.

Youngsters from the off islands visit the main primary school, mixing with other children and adding to the social balance in their lives. Secondary school teachers are also doing outreach work in the smaller primaries.

The Department for Education and Skills has taken a real interest because it sees this as a potential way forward for other schools in the UK - particularly in rural areas.

Maintaining a presence in all the schools is a challenge, but every Wednesday afternoon I'm away from St Mary's, so I get to each island school once every three weeks.

And when I'm there my life is very different, because I don't tend to spend much time on administration. I'm working with the children, talking with them and making myself available for the parents.

You have to pinch yourself sometimes when you're on a rubber dinghy being piloted across the ocean to your next port of call.

Paul Mulligan is headteacher of Five Islands school on the Isles of Scilly.

He was talking to Martin Whittaker

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