Campus Woking: 40 schools in one

1st December 2006 at 00:00
Surrey is preparing to outflank the government's most ambitious super-school plans with a giant federation of 40 schools in one town, dubbed Campus Woking.

The Surrey council executive votes on the ambitious proposal on Tuesday. It would enrol Woking's 11,000 pupils in one big school with departments all over town.

Accusing the Government of timidity in its school reforms, the pilot project's designer wants to introduce it across the county and, perhaps, the country.

The proposal pays homage to the government's catchphrases of "personalised learning" and strong schools supporting weaker ones.

Using the Government's new trust school structure (passed by Parliament last month), the proposal before the Conservative-run council would seek to bolster public money for schools with additional private investment.

Andrew Crisp, the council's education executive member, said business had been critical of schools: "We're saying, put your money where your mouth is."

The paper before the council proposes a cartwheel structure, with a hub at its heart likely to take responsibility for governance and back-office tasks such as finance, human resources and ICT. It might also work with the local university or further education college to create a seamless transition.

Around Woking, the various school departments (once separate schools) would develop specialisms such as arts or science.

"Pupils might say, I'll spend three days at my base school, and two days at other schools doing specific vocational training, or music or sports," Mr Crisp said.

The council has been holding informal meetings with local heads, governors and community representatives since October.

If the executive votes in favour of the proposal on Tuesday, it will go out to formal consultation for three months, after which the full council would be required to vote on the project in the summer.

Mr Crisp said that the proposal would devolve power to the local community, a move away from "government knows best".

"People are always somewhat suspicious of politics and politicians. But Surrey has a good record of devolving power." he said. "So is this a backdoor attempt to be more directive? Absolutely not."

Stuart Shepherd, headteacher at the Bishop David Brown secondary school, said Woking heads and governors were excited but daunted by the project.

"There is interest, without doubt, but the word 'caution' springs to mind,"

he said. "People want to see what the ramifications will be for their individual institution.

"We're a small but innovative secondary school. We're giving students lots of opportunities - we have a hair salon and a construction centre on site - but it is hard to offer all those choices on your own. This will allow us to offer students far more."

Jane Abbott, principal of Woking high, said the school was keen to collaborate, but also needed more information on what services would be provided where. "One of the issues is around school sovereignty, loyalty and choice," she said. "There is a concern about the way loyalty to individual schools will be affected."

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