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Case Study: Coastal Together Federation, creating opportunities

We spoke with Coastal Together to find out how they approach school leadership within their Federation.

Coastal Together Federation is the result of two smaller federations coming together to create a partnership which includes pre-schools, infant schools, junior schools, primary schools and a Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) base.

David Hopkins is the Deputy Executive Headteacher across the Federation, and Jan Bellison is the Senior Teacher for Horning Primary School. As the Federation has grown and changed shape, both have seen their roles transform in response. They kindly spent some time with us, sharing their experiences and knowledge.

A flexible approach in all things is the key in this Federation, and being a member of Coastal Together staff means that you may be asked to work across a range of settings and in a variety of roles; but this is seen as a strength rather than a barrier. So much of the Federation’s day-to-day life is built on collaboration, a shared enthusiasm for teaching in small schools, and a drive to provide a high-quality educational experience for all.

This shared approach is also applied to the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) offered within the Federation. The headteacher and assistant headteacher responsible for teaching and learning also have CPD in their remit. Staff come together for Federation planning days each term, where teachers from the same phase (Key Stage 1, Lower Key Stage 2, Upper Key Stage 2) work on creating a shared curriculum for the next term. All the Coastal Together schools deliver the same topic/theme-based curricula, allowing the teachers to spread the workload, share resources, and participate in Federation-wide trips - something that wouldn’t be possible for a single small school to offer. With a wide variety of school locations and buildings (some have no hall or communal space) the practicalities of putting on an event in one school may be insurmountable, but this can be overcome by relocating to another. Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) from one school will drive the minibus for another,  allowings for swimming lessons to be cost-effective, and opportunities for schools without a qualified driver to still be mobile and access extracurricular opportunities.

Individuals are offered development opportunities within the Federation, either through shared CPD sessions or through extended school observations. An Early Career Teacher (ECT) in one school was released for a week to go and observe the excellent practice of a colleague in another school, focusing on phonics, which is now a developing strength of the ECT. The extended visit added so much more to the ECTs experience and understanding of teaching mixed-year classes and, that can be seen in the adaptations and changes being made in their own classroom.

The Federation has also facilitated work with the local Maths Hub, National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) for those starting in new leadership roles, and Initial Teacher Trainees and ECTs are welcomed into the team. To guarantee regular and purposeful mentoring for ECTs, an Induction Tutor is brought in from a different school to ensure that roles and relationships aren’t blurred, and that time constraints are mitigated. This and the ability to spend time across the Federation means that ECTs get a wonderful introduction to teaching and experience a variety of settings and contexts – something many teachers never achieve. These opportunities don’t happen by chance, but through the shared understanding that investing in staff is vital and that each school has a duty to support the others.

Staff meetings are also a movable feast, with chances to work as a whole Federation balanced with the needs of individual schools, or the joining of a couple of schools which have identified similar areas of focus. Staff meetings can be in person, online, or a blended approach which allows for agility and creativity. The Federation comes together for INSET days, for example to launch a revised maths curriculum (ensuring everyone receives the same message) or undertake safeguarding training. Writing moderation was undertaken in ‘hubs’ where geographically close schools come together to share good practise.

The Federation's Senior Leadership Team meets fortnightly and alternates its focus from curriculum and development to more organisational or strategic matters. This allows for a truly holistic approach to leadership and means that there is always a focus on what needs to be done next and how this can be achieved.

All aspects of the central team are mobile, with the executive headteacher, deputy executive headteacher, and the finance/business team spending time in every school, ensuring that a personalised approach is always present. Leading by example means that all the Coastal Federation staff see the value in working as a Federation, instead of as individual schools.