Village schools to continue working together under shared leadership model

Executive headteacher Helen Dudman with children at Ravensworth Primary School.

An initiative to test a pioneering leadership model for four village schools has been declared a success.

The Dales Academies Trust launched the trial in September 2019, bringing primary schools in Barton, Ravensworth, East Cowton, and Kirkby Fleetham under the leadership of one executive headteacher.

Officials say that after producing a range of benefits, the four-school model will become a permanent arrangement from January.

And with the sustainability of small rural schools proving to be a long-standing national problem, the pilot has been written up as a case study and headlines shared with  the Department for Education in the hope that others might benefit from the schools’ experiences.

Bishop Paul Ferguson, chair of the Trust, said: “The Church of England’s village schools have been a key part of our mission for centuries, and our ideal is for that to continue wherever it’s feasible and is the right way forward educationally.

“I warmly welcome this arrangement which will give the four schools the best chance to flourish, and so that the children can have the best possible experience as they learn and grow.”

Under the reorganisation, Helen Dudman, who was previously headteacher at Kirkby Fleetham and East Cowton, has become executive headteacher of the four schools, which all have fewer than 50 pupils.

The pilot scheme was initiated after the previous headteacher of the primary schools in Barton and Ravensworth moved on to a new post.

As executive headteacher, Mrs Dudman spends one day a week at each of the schools and rotates the fifth day.

Each of the four schools has a ‘base leader’, including Kirstie Petch, at Ravensworth, who also covers for Mrs Dudman as deputy headteacher.

There are 11 teachers across the four schools, and one of the keys to the success of the new model has been to maximise their individual specialisms.

“Each of those 11 teachers has specialist knowledge and skills, so we’ve been able to share that expertise across the four schools, rather than each of them being stretched in trying to manage every curriculum subject,” explained Mrs Dudman.

“It means we’re able to experience the advantages of a large staff team that bigger schools have, whilst retaining the small school identity and character of each school.”

Another key benefit of the new arrangement was the innovative appointment of a dedicated special educational needs co-ordinator to work across all four schools whose impact has been significant.

Georgie Szikora, whose ten-year-old son, Heath, attends Barton Primary School, said: “I had some initial doubts about the changes, but they have proved to be unfounded, because all the benefits of a small school, with a personal touch, have been maintained.

“It’s been tremendous, and I can’t speak too highly of the way it has been managed.”