Following the press release last week by Rye Academy Trust concerning remedial works to the buildings and touching on the current state of the relationship with the Aquinas Trust, Rye News felt that there more questions that needed an answer, particularly as we had been contacted by several parents anxious about the future of their child’s education.
Unfortunately, there was not time for the Lead Executive, Andrew Ferguson (who has replaced Tim Hulme) to meet us but he agreed to answer a number of questions that we were able to send to him and which had arisen over the past few months.
For simplicity, we are showing them below without editorial comment. One of the disadvantages with written questions and answers is that it is not possible to expand the conversation on any particular subject with follow-up questions, but we will, as always, be interested to hear the views of our readers and these can always be put to the Trust at a later date.
Rye News: What is the current situation on the merger with Aquinas? The phrase used by the Trust ‘working more closely together’ does not sound like a merger and will the DfE be happy with this in view of their September deadline for a full merger?
Andrew Ferguson: The DfE are fully engaged in our process of joining another Trust and while we would like this to happen by September they understand that the process may take longer, especially given staff engagement in the process.
RN: Are there any local (i.e. Rye-based) members of the Trust and if so, will they still be there in the event of the Aquinas merger being finalised?
AF: There will be an interim executive board overseeing both schools and the Aquinas Trust is keen to recruit members of the local community to join. The way the Aquinas Trust works is that each of its academies has its own advisory council. These are made up of two elected staff, two elected parents and six trust-appointed members sourced locally for each school. The purpose of an AAC (Academy Advisory Council) is to both advise heads in the running of their school but very importantly to protect the identity of each school and the community it serves. When the schools are ready to set up their AAC, we will be recruiting local community expertise to form these councils.
RN: Schools used to have parent governors. Is an equivalent arrangement being made to allow parent members of the Trust?
AF: Aquinas regards parental input as essential. The majority of the membership of the local advisory councils will be local and will definitely include parents.
RN: Like most of our readers, we were pleased to hear of your success in obtaining £4.1 million for general and much needed refurbishment. At an earlier date a figure of £7 million was estimated to bring the buildings and facilities up to standard. Can you outline the works that would have been included in this latter figure but are not included in the £4.1 million? Will the additional £3 million be available at a later date and, if so, will there be any specific conditions attached?
AF: The £7m was an estimate, the £4.1m figure is as a result of a detailed condition survey and a competitive tender process. There will always be future works to carry out, but we are delighted that the works being undertaken will meet our needs for a number of years. This is a major investment in our infrastructure, which will bring a much needed improvement in the learning environment for our students and staff.
RN: There are, we understand, still a number of teacher vacancies. Is it planned to fill these in the short term and if not, what is the reason?
AF: As with all schools, the deadline for teachers to resign their positions is May 31 for them to leave at the end of August. We are very privileged that we have a dedicated staff and therefore have only a few vacancies for September. We are currently recruiting and interviewing for these vacancies.
RN: How will the overt Christian philosophy of Aquinas impact on the day-to-day running of the school and on the subjects taught or emphasised and will local trustees, parents or school management have any say in this? This is the question which, from correspondence we receive, clearly is of considerable concern to many parents.
AF: Let me be absolutely clear, both schools will remain community schools; the Aquinas Trust is constituted to having both church and community schools in its Trust. Both of our schools will transfer as community schools and will not become Church of England academies. The priority in terms of curriculum will be to provide an effective provision that meets the needs of all our learners. Each academy within the Aquinas Trust sets its own curriculum; it is the responsibility of the headteacher to ensure that the curriculum meets the needs of all its students. The Rye Trustees, Aquinas Trustees and the Department for Education are all committed to this.
RN: It would seem, also from correspondence that Rye News has received, that the only source of information for parents, has been through press releases issued to Rye News and other press outlets. As this is causing a great deal of concern among many parents, is this policy going to continue or will the Trust be communicating directly with parents and any other interested parties at any time in the future?
AF: All recent announcements that have been released to the press have also been shared directly with our parents. We very much look forward to working closer with our community.
Rye News would like to thank Mr Ferguson for his time and while one or two of the answers could be said to beg further questions, we are sure that a lot of the above will help ease the fears and concerns of many. The good news would appear to be, that whatever anyone may think of some of the new arrangements, the Rye Academy Trust are clearly showing a will and a desire to improve quality and standards of both the College and Primary School.
Photo: Kenneth Bird