Trust trailblazers fired up for research

My school can innovate just like universities and hospitals, says Monkseaton's head

THE TRUST school initiative is expected to face its first major test of public opinion within a month, when one school - which plans to become a research school to enhance its reputation for innovation - goes to public consultation.

Monkseaton community high in Whitley Bay on Tyneside, which intends to form a trust with partners including Microsoft and the Open University, will seek public approval following a meeting with the Department for Education and Skills next week. It will be the first of 50 pathfinder schools where a charitable trust takes charge of the school, its land and finances.

Paul Kelley, Monkseaton's headteacher, believes becoming a trust will allow the school to be more innovative, as called for in a recent government study into how education should develop until 2020.

"You have research universities and hospitals. We are a research school,"

said Mr Kelley. "There's a place for research and development in schools.

We have already shown we can innovate, then we can share those innovations."

Trust schools formed a major plank of the Education and Inspections Bill but faced criticism from teachers' unions and MPs, who opposed greater private involvement in state schools. Schools can form trusts with businesses, charities, community groups and other schools or universities.

They will be funded in the same way as maintained schools, but employ their own staff and be able to set their own admissions arrangements, in line with the admissions code. The first trusts are expected to be running by the summer.

Monkseaton plans to fall under the control of the Innovation Trust, which will also include North Tyneside council, David Reynolds, professor of education at Plymouth university, and Tribal Group, a consultancy. The school already has relationships with a number of its proposed partners. It has run Open University modules for its sixth formers and used support from Microsoft to provide foreign language courses for more than 1,000 primary schools.

Its latest venture is looking at children's health. It has carried out fitness tests and parents of unfit pupils have been sent letters with health advice. It is now looking at testing children's body rhythms to see if the timing of the school day is best suited to pupils' learning.

Mr Kelley said becoming a trust would allow the school to plan better. "It allows us to make a long-term formal relationship. There'll be an interface between the school and society, with links to higher education, local government and national and international players. That gives us a good cross-section of people with big roles to play."

Big companies, such as Microsoft, felt more comfortable working with schools within a charitable organisation because it ruled out conflicts of interest, he said.

Teenagers aren't lazy, page 22

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