Prep school puts its faith in 'Yellow Pages college' tie-in
It could be one of the unlikeliest partnerships in modern education, but the marriage of an FE college specialising in vocational education and a celebrated independent prep school is very much going ahead.
Barnfield College in Luton - which nicknamed itself the "Yellow Pages college" after it dropped A-levels and focused on training students in trades - is taking over the nearby #163;5,000-a-year Moorlands School and turning it into a state-maintained "free school".
The independent school for two to 11-year-olds has agreed to join the Barnfield Federation in a move that it hopes will allow it to expand to meet demand. As well as the prep school and college, the federation includes the South and West academies, a studio school and forthcoming university technical college.
While both the head of the prep and the FE principal say they are delighted in their new relationship, it is clearly a major change for the federation, which until now has focused on turning around failing schools by expanding vocational options.
Not that this is the future being mapped out for the prep school.
Pete Birkett, principal and chief executive of Barnfield College, said he had no intention of changing the school's ethos. "We don't see it changing at all really. We want to retain those values and straw boaters," he said. "The important thing for me is that this is about choice for young people."
He said the school, named as one of the top 100 prep schools by The Sunday Times, is owned by a charitable trust which provides bursaries for a third of the pupils, and it will transfer to a new academy trust. The federation aims to house the school, which has 300 pupils, in larger premises within three years.
"This is how popular Moorlands is. After the news came out the school had 300 phone calls the next morning. There's a need to expand that provision. We can do that through the Barnfield Federation."
Mr Birkett added: "The Barnfield model was about turning around failing schools. We've done that with two academies. But the model has also been adapted to enable different relationships with schools that want to join the federation.
"We are adjusting our curriculum to support the introduction of the Ebac. We believe it provides the right choices moving forward. We're going to allocate more hours to the core GCSEs of maths, English, sciences, a language, history and geography."
The Barnfield West Academy has been named the most improved school in the country, but the first Ebac results revealed how improvements came at the expense of traditional GCSE subjects. The two academies saw less than one per cent of students achieve good grades in English, maths, a language, a science and a humanities subject.
Andrew Cross, head of Moorlands, said that he regarded Barnfield as a suitable partner because they shared a commitment to doing whatever works for their students. "They have a very strong vision of excellence which isn't hindered by dogma," he said.
He said most of his school's parents were not wealthy and he predicted that the socio-economic background of the pupils would not change much due to state funding. "They're very ordinary people, often one-parent families, who recognise that the only way their children are going to get on is if they give up on their holidays or forget about a new car," he said.
But he declined to speculate as to whether his students would progress to the Barnfield Academies, arguing that Luton had a general lack of secondary places that may make it necessary to expand his school into older age groups.
Moorlands will make use of shared services within the federation, which Mr Birkett said would enable them to make savings of 15 to 25 per cent.