Two heads, one idea: sponsor an academy
Over a "wee tipple" at the Association of Colleges' conference in November, two Basingstoke college principals had a heart-to-heart about the difficulties they faced with schools in the town. A year earlier, the Vyne Community School had become the third to be placed in special measures.
"We were both quite happy: we were putting the world to rights," said Anthony Bravo, principal of Basingstoke College of Technology. "But it actually started something."
Three months on, Basingstoke College and Queen Mary's College, a sixth form led by Stephen Sheedy, have submitted a unique proposal to the Department for Education to back the Vyne school in making the switch to academy status. They want to create the first academy jointly sponsored by a general FE college and a sixth-form college.
While a number of colleges have been quick to participate in the expansion of the academies programme, this is the first time two different types have joined forces to manage a school.
"If we didn't do something about it, we knew there would be an external academy chain coming in," Mr Bravo said. "This would potentially cause a lot of conflict and wouldn't bode well for collaboration. It's a local solution - Basingstoke is helping itself."
The two colleges are forming a single trust, which would assume responsibility for running the school. The plans have been unanimously agreed by the colleges' governors.
The colleges plan to take an advisory role, sharing their resources and expertise with the Vyne school. The colleges and the school will also benefit financially by pooling their IT resources, Mr Bravo said. "We won't take anything out - whatever we save will go back into the school to improve services," he added.
The school itself is also in favour. A letter sent to parents from Vyne's acting head and chair of governors said they were "absolutely delighted" with the proposals.
"The expertise that both these providers bring will prove to be invaluable to our school and we very much look forward to working in partnership with them," the letter reads. "Academy status should mean very little change to the day-to-day operations of the school, but will allow us to be more flexible and creative with our resources and thus improve the learning experience."
Principals of the town's other schools are broadly supportive, Mr Sheedy believes. "Other heads' views ranged from enthusiasm to 'better the devil you know'," he said. "Our motives aren't entirely altruistic. No college can afford to have three out of eight schools in its catchment area being in special measures without some impact on you. But there's a recognition that we're all in it together."
Mr Sheedy added that the school had already shown significant signs of improvement under an interim head and is keen to secure a new principal in time for the start of the new academic year in September.
Mr Bravo is equally optimistic about the trust model, which he believes could eventually expand to embrace other local schools. "I have always wanted to work more closely with Queen Mary's and this seems like a good idea. There's a lot going for it. I would be delighted if, in future, any other schools wanted to come in and join the trust."
As well as taking an increasingly keen interest in academies, colleges are keeping a close eye on the other new breeds of schools favoured by the government.
Of the 37 bids submitted last year to create university technical colleges, three-quarters involved an FE college. And many of first batch of 12 studio schools that will open this year are partnered by colleges.