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Primary Schools Excellence

Page last updated: 14/12/2023

​​The way in which education in England is provided and controlled is undergoing a major change.  As a result, the relationship Essex County Council has with its primary schools, and the relationships they have with each other, is changing.  Several factors will affect these new relationships:

  • the ambition across Essex that every child goes to a 'good' or 'outstanding' school;

  • the growing numbers of autonomous schools including academies, free schools and studio schools;

  • an expectation that all schools will be responsible for their own improvement and will support others schools to improve;

  • new funding settlements and rules, which mean a greater proportion of funding will be delegated to individual schools;

  • a new inspection framework that has raised the bar for schools, as well as new floor targets for primary schools;

  • new expectations in terms of the primary curriculum.

How the Role of the Local Authority is Changing

As school ​autonomy increases, and as the funding available for local authority education services diminishes, the nature of the relationship between the Local Authority and its primary schools is changing.

We believe strongly that schools should be autonomous and should drive their own improvement.  We are equally convinced that there is a powerful and essential role that the Local Authority must continue to play in education. The Local Authority: 

  • continues to hold a range of statutory responsibilities essential for the effective operation of the education system such as ensuring a sufficient supply of school places and supporting vulnerable children, as well as continuing to be the maintaining authority for community schools;

  • is best placed to bring schools together to take decisions which serve the collective needs of a whole community of children and young people, rather than just those children and young people who attend a particular school;

  • is able to bring an in-depth and evidence-based perspective on the needs of local communities, based on knowledge of how communities use wider council services, demographic and population data and economic trends;

  • provides an essential link for schools into social care, youth justice, health, family well-being, lifelong learning, economic regeneration and employment services.

Moreover, as an elected body, the Council continues to have a powerful democratic mandate to ensure services support good outcomes for all children, young people and their families in Essex.  In our new role we will endeavour to act as:

  • ​a convenor of partnerships, bringing schools together, with the right information, questions and facilitation, so schools can make decisions that will impact positively on outcomes for all pupils in Essex;

  • a maker and shaper of effective commissioning of school providers and services, and supporting schools to be effective commissioners in turn;

  • a champion of pupils, parents and communities, scrutinising the performance of all schools, taking rapid action in underperforming community schools and offering a traded support and brokerage service where performance issues are identified in academies.

Benefits of Collaboration

We believe stronger collaboration between primary schools is a key element in improving primary education in Essex.

We are encouraging primary headteachers and governing bodies to consider a range of formal, structural collaborative models and the benefits they offer.  These include:

  • providing school-to-school support, which is a proven and effective way of improving schools, especially when the support is formalised and built into the governance and leadership of schools rather than being dependent on the goodwill of the schools and individuals involved;

  • helping small schools, which often struggle to find the resources to invest in additional capacity or services they may need as schools become increasingly autonomous, and which may be vulnerable to swings in performance as a result of staff sickness or changes;

  • creating a supportive environment in which to develop school leaders, which is critical given recruitment challenges;

  • increasing the capacity of the primary sector to deliver sector-led improvement, which will be increasingly important as the Local Authority becomes a commissioner and broker of support, rather than a direct provider.

Strong and formal collaboration between primary schools provides a way to address many of these challenges.

Publications which demonstrate the positive impact of working in strong partnerships include:

Essex Sustainable Schools Strategy

School sustainability should first and foremost be about the quality of the educational experience of our children and young people. The aim is to have strong viable schools in both educational and financial terms which provide our children with a high-quality education for their benefit, and for the benefit of society as a whole. 

The strategy aims to set out six criteria and associated indicators that should provide a framework for helping to consider issues of school sustainability. The intention is to offer assistance to all those involved with schools helping to assess the position at the school and whether and where early intervention is required.  It is not intended to trigger particular solutions automatically.  It is recognised that local circumstances need to be considered in determining appropriate action, and the position needs to be assessed on a case by case basis and kept under review.

Too often, concerns about a school's viability are addressed only when the numbers of pupils on roll have already declined over a period of years to an untenable position and rationalisation is the only option remaining.  The set of criteria, located in the audit tool section of this document, is much broader than intake thresholds and are intended to provide a framework for earlier consideration and action as necessary so that options can be considered which best meet the educational needs of the local community.  The criteria will also ensure transparency, consistency and equity in decision-making on sustainability across schools and sectors. 

The Sustainable Schools Dashboard 2023 to 2024

Schools can access the Dashboard and Self-Evaluation Tool co-designed with primary headteachers, ESGA, Chelmsford Diocese, LA officers to support leaders and governors keep school sustainability under review. It is an expectation that LA Maintained schools complete the self-evaluation and share this with your SEP and governors as an opportunity to review 2022/23 outcomes alongside your strategic plan.

The Dashboard can be found on Perspective Lite. Once logged in, go to LA Documents folder, select Sustainable Schools Dashboard. To access the survey, complete the new dashboard for your school

LA maintained schools, please contact your School Effectiveness Partner who has time allocated to support your school through the process.

Academies please contact Alison Fiala Lead for Sustainable Schools,


Governing Bodies of maintained schools are able to collaborate in different ways, ranging from joint committees and joint governing body meetings to the federation.  Federations represent the more formal end of this collaborative spectrum in which a single governing body takes responsibility and accountability for two or more schools.

Federation is therefore a shared governance structure which provides a basis for extensive school-to-school partnership.  The constitution of a maintained school-federated governing body reflects the model applying to individual governing bodies.

Any group that would have been represented on the governing bodies of the individual schools will be represented on the governing body of the federation.

Who is eligible to apply?  

There are no legal restrictions on which type of schools can establish a federation, although there may be limits on which type of schools can federate with one another.  Maintained schools are unable to federate with academies.

For more information, contact

What are the potential benefits? 

  • Schools that are not academies, and do not want to become academies, are able to establish a formal collaborative structure without a change of status..  This applies to VA and VC schools as well as community schools. VA and VC schools have to apply to the Diocese Board of Education to request approval.  Maintained schools, whether primary secondary or special are not able to federate with academies.

  • Schools in federations continue to be individual schools and keep their existing character including any religious character.  They are currently inspected separately.  As there are two DfE numbers, there are two lump sums of available which allow for additional resources and economy of scale to develop new management structures.

  • The shared governance structure of a hard federation allows schools to work together efficiently and sustainably to raise standards and share resources, staff, expertise and facilities.

  • There are no changes to staff terms and conditions as they continue to be employed by their original school.  Federation could be an appropriate step that two schools might take and look to a future step to becoming a single establishment.

What is the process for applying?

To propose a federation, you must follow the prescribed legislative process set out in The School Governance (Federations) (England) Regulations 2012.

More detailed guidance can be found in the Guidance on School Governance (Federations) (England) Regulations  September 2022.   

Academies can find out more on the DfE​ website. 

Amalgamation of Two Schools

There are 2 ways to amalgamate 2 (or more) existing maintained schools:

  • The local authority and/or governing body (depending on school category) can publish proposals to close 2, or more, schools and the local authority (or a proposer other than the local authority depending on category) can publish a proposal to open a new school. Where this is a presumption school, this will be subject to publication of a section 6A notice (see part 2 of this guidance). This will result in a new school number being issued.

  • The local authority and/or governing body (depending on school category) can publish a proposal to close one school (or more) and enlarge/change the age range/transfer site of an existing school (following the statutory prescribed alterations process as necessary), to accommodate the displaced pupils. The remaining school would retain its original school number, as it is not a new school, even if its phase has changed. This is sometimes referred to as a 'merger'.

Please read from Page 26 in the following DfE guidance (January 2023) -  Opening and closing maintained schools.

For more information, contact