A Better Future

This page of our website explains our governors’ proposal to work in partnership with a strong trust of likeminded schools called EMET (East Midlands Educational Trust) to secure a better future for Highfields students and staff.

Governors believe this move will secure for students and staff the facilities, support and resources they need to be the best they can as Highfields faces the challenges posed by the pandemic and its aftermath.

Highfields governors are responsible for securing a better future for our students and staff.

With this in mind, the governing body has been considering, since 2017, the potential benefits of forming or joining a multi-academy trust. Recently, several events have increased the governors’ resolve to explore this option:

  • Peak 11, a support network to which Highfields has belonged for many years, has disbanded after a number of its members moved away from the network to join or form trusts. This has left Highfields without collaborative partners with whom they might work closely.
  • The Covid 19 crisis has provided a stark illustration of the benefits of working collaboratively with a strong team of schools such as those within a trust. As a standalone school Highfields’ capacity to respond to a succession of crises has been stretched because of their inability to draw on the combined resources of a strong team.
  • The local authority is unable to commit to the repair, renovation and redevelopment required to stop Highfields facilities and premises becoming obsolete over the next 5-10 years. In contrast, our potential partner, EMET, has given assurances that such investment in students’ and staff working environment WILL be undertaken.

After pausing this discussion for sixth months during lockdown in March 2020 we consulted informally with stakeholders in November 2020 regarding joining our chosen trust, EMET (East Midland Educational Trust). This consultation gave all stakeholders the opportunity to look at relevant evidence and to meet EMET staff in a series of online meetings. The response to the consultation was positive, especially amongst families. We therefore applied for in-principle agreement to proceed to formal consultation in order to find out more about the views of stakeholders.

However, we paused this progress again in November 2020 to allow school staff to focus on dealing with remote education and Covid 19 risk management. Governors will meet again in 2021 to review their position. Governors will always aim to balance staff and parent views alongside the pressing need to achieve the best future possible for our students and staff. Governors believe in total transparency for stakeholders and will continue to provide all available information about our decision making process.

Governors are mindful of the restrictions which Covid may place on our ability to consult face to face with large groups.  However, we are satisfied that meaningful consultation can still take place using a variety of other communication tools. 

Covid 19, as well as delaying progress in this matter, is also a reason for governors to move this process forward: Highfields needs to be part of a strong team of schools in order to face what is likely to be a challenging and uncertain post pandemic educational landscape.

The functions of governance are:

  1. Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent
  2. Holding the headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils
  3. Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction

Governors have kept these functions in mind throughout the process. The FAQs detail the process we used to select EMET from the trusts which were available. The governors have been and will continue to be entirely transparent in their leadership of this crucial educational initiative. This webpage and the documents linked to it are an attempt to share as much information as possible with stakeholders.

Governors are keenly aware of the emotive and political nature of this issue for some. Governors feel, however, that this decision should be based on evidence. The examination of this evidence taken from various sources and checked carefully has resulted in their proposal that Highfields students and staff would have a better future if their school worked together with a strong trust of likeminded schools.

EMET has a proven track record of academic excellence in schools similar to Highfields. . The lead school in the EMET trust has amongst the strongest academic outcomes in the East Midlands and data clearly shows that all EMET schools are improving over time. Despite some improvements, Highfields students at GCSE still make less progress than students nationally. EMET offers excellent networking opportunities for staff to learn from each other in much the way they used to as a member of the recently disbanded Peak 11 network. We expect this professional community to result in enhanced classroom practice, which, in turn, results in a better future for our students.

EMET also offers free professional qualifications for staff including the NPQ suite which are so crucial for staff development and career progression.

EMET has a proven track record of providing excellent resources and facilities for its students and staff. These range from a sixth form centre at Kimberly School to a sports/ performance block at Ripley to a planned purpose built theatre at West Bridgford (see images) and play areas for primary schools.

Highfields is currently hoping for a long awaited sports pitch which has been funded mainly through monies received from a local housing development. After this is complete there are no other major plans to refurbish or redevelop Highfields School if it does not join EMET. Governors feel that, without this investment, students and staff will have to put up with some classrooms, facilities and resources which urgently require renovation or replacement.

Students: There is no evidence that suggests that students will benefit if Highfields remains as a standalone local authority school and does not join EMET.

Parents/Carers: There is no evidence that suggests that parents/carers will benefit if Highfields remains as a standalone local authority school and does not join EMET

Staff: Because of TUPE, staff terms and conditions will be honoured when joining EMET. Derbyshire Local Authority policies and procedures are very favourable and cannot be matched by many other local authorities and trusts (although there is no guarantee that these will remain so in the future). Therefore, time frames regarding the management of staff underperformance and absence are shorter in EMET HR policies, which are based on Nottinghamshire templates, than in DCC equivalents. There are other more detailed differences some of which can be found in FAQs and some of which will be explored with trade unions as part of the formal consultation process, when that is undertaken.

All staff pay will be matched to within a few pounds or enhanced- no one will lose out. No one will lose their job because of the transfer into EMET.

Finance: To gain the benefits afforded through membership of this trust, schools pay a portion (a top slice) of their budget. You can see more detail in FAQs. Financial evidence examined by governors shows, however, that EMET schools, despite the ‘top slice’ are still in an extremely healthy net financial position, mainly because of EMET’s capacity to fund capital projects which frees up schools to prioritise their budget towards staffing.

You can find out more about EMET here

EMET is a multi-academy trust (MAT) which means that they are a non-profit making charity which is state funded. They are not a ‘private’ company, no profit is made: this is not ‘privatisation’.

Its leader (CEO) is successful former headteacher Rob McDonough, who originally became known to governors when the Department for Education allocated him as a National Leader of Education (NLE) to Highfields in 2018 after a number of years of underperformance. Governors then added EMET to a long list of MATs included in their selection process.

Governors eventually selected EMET as a preferred partner because evidence suggested that they were true to their mission statement: ‘A Partnership of Willing, Proud and Autonomous Schools’. EMET schools retain their individuality and ‘signature’ policies (uniform, behaviour, teaching and learning etc) and are not expected to compromise their identity in any way.

EMET is able to offer the support it does to its schools because:

  • It saves money by avoiding duplicating services or resources in individual schools
  • It is able to bid for monies which successive governments have prioritised towards multi-academy trusts because this is their preferred educational model
  • Provides direct capital investment given that it is in receipt of circa £2.6m of capital funding each year

EMET’s model is based on autonomy which means that members of the trust make schools decisions at a local governor and headteacher level. All EMET schools are similar in context but completely different in uniform, appearance, leadership and teaching style.

Highfields would retain its individuality and unique character as the community school for Matlock.

Governors encourage all constructive discussion and will take into account all stakeholder views.

In an informal consultation a majority of staff and families supported the proposal. Families offered strong support with 157 responses received: 110 supporting the proposal and 46 not. The staff views were broadly positive but more mixed: 93 of around 160 staff emailed responded with 42 staff not supporting the proposal and 51 supporting.

Views which supported the proposal tended to reflect the evidence provided by governors. Typical responses included those below. 

  •  Better prospects, new resources, more opportunities and a chance to move forward” Staff member 
  •  I strongly feel facilities need more investment and hope for more access to training and networking events. Being part of a small department, I hope that the trust allows me to learn and develop through sharing good practice with subject specialist in other schools.” Staff member 
  •  “Times are changing and I think being part of EMET can provide new opportunities and a better working environment for staff and students. My main concerns surrounding pay/pensions and security of teaching positions have been answered.” Staff member 
  •  “I feel that ventures which can enhance the school learning environment should be embraced. I also believe that collaboration with other schools is a positive thing.” Family member

Governors also evaluated views which did not support the proposal. Although each view was individual, governors noted that there were common themes and they addressed this in their November letter.  

We will continue to encourage reasoned debate and discussion about the direction of the school.

At this time, we have received in-principle permission to progress to formal consultation. As of January 2021, however, the country is in lockdown and governors have therefore paused this matter until further notice.

When conditions allow, the governors intend that a wide range of stakeholder views will be taken into account and ample time will be given to allow negotiations between trade unions, the local authority with the school and EMET.

Governors have thought carefully about the educational direction of travel both locally and nationally.  They are acutely aware that in close neighbour Nottinghamshire there is now only one secondary school left out of 45 which is maintained by the local authority.  In Nottinghamshire all of the secondary school improvement support networks are now in academy trusts.  This is happening now in Derbyshire.  Of the 45 secondary schools in Derbyshire, 33 are either already academies or in the process of becoming academies and consequently the school improvement networks, such as Peak 11, are collapsing.

In many ways, EMET is similar to a scaled down version of a local authority: it takes a portion of our budget in return for providing support, services and resources. The difference is that in this educational landscape, EMET is able to support the school to a much greater extent than Derbyshire County Council. 

Governors feel our future is with a trust and we want this to be a trust of our choosing.  If we continue to prevaricate over this difficult decision we may reach a point when we have either no choice or our preferred option is not available to us.

We feel it is crucial to act to secure a better future for Highfields students and staff.

A note about the video in response to a request for clarification from a stakeholder (February 2021).

At 5mins 30secs Mr Marsh refers to paying the local authority a ‘top slice’. Whilst it is true that Highfields School does pay the local authority for services, the stakeholder has correctly identified that this is not actually a ‘top-slice’ as the payments are not deducted at source, but instead are paid back or re-pooled from a delegated budget. Governors and Mr Marsh are happy to clarify this and remain committed to openness and transparency.