Proposal for Wheatley Park School students to leave school earlier on Fridays from September 2019

Governors and school leaders are currently considering the proposal above and have recently consulted with school staff. We now present this proposal to parents/carers and the wider community for feedback.

What exactly is being proposed?

It is proposed that from September 2019, Wheatley Park School students would leave school at a slightly earlier time every Friday. For example, lunchtime could be moved forward on Fridays to follow on from the end of Period 3 and students would go home at the end of Period 4 instead of Period 5, one hour earlier than usual. School would continue to start at 8:30am every morning and finish at 3:00pm every afternoon except on Fridays.

Why is this being proposed?

The primary reason is to save money. As has been widely reported, school budgets are under enormous pressure and our own is no exception. The school currently has some funds in reserve but will quickly tip into deficit unless we can find further ways to reduce costs significantly.  At the same time, an early finish on Fridays would allow staff more opportunities to work on collaborative lesson planning and curriculum development - a key school improvement priority.

How would this help cut costs?

Reducing the school week by one period would mean fewer lessons needed to be taught overall, which in turn would mean fewer teachers would be needed to staff the school. The total number or teachers would be reduced via natural wastage leading to significant savings since, as in most schools, staffing represents 80% of our total budget.

What has already been done to cut costs?

We have already taken several measures to cut costs and run the school as efficiently as possible over the last few years. These include but are by no means limited to:

Are there alternative ways of cutting costs or generating income?

There are some alternatives but these often have drawbacks:

Increasing class sizes

We could staff the school more efficiently by further increasing class sizes. However, we already have class sizes of up to 34 in some year groups within core subjects; we are physically limited by the size of our classrooms; and health and safety considerations limit class sizes in certain subjects.

Reducing the number of subjects on offer to students

We continue to run some subjects at GCSE and A-level despite relatively low numbers of students taking them. By cutting these subjects from the curriculum altogether, we could make savings by staffing the school more efficiently. However, leaders and governors believe that retaining a broad curriculum offer is fundamental to our vision of becoming a sustainably outstanding school.

Generating income by requesting financial support from parents/carers

Unlike other schools, so far leaders and governors have discounted this option on principle and will continue to do so unless clear strength of feeling otherwise is expressed by parents/carers. Otherwise, this option would only be considered as an absolute last resort.

Generating income through fundraising

The school will continue to explore all means to raise income from sources in addition to our direct funding from the Government in collaboration with the PTA and other organisations. The sums needed to be raised are challenging.

Will this proposal damage my child’s education?

Parents/carers may rightly be concerned that having 24 instead of 25 lessons a week would be detrimental to their child(ren)’s education, particularly given the strong emphasis the school places on good attendance. However, the school would seek to minimise any negative impact on students’ learning by protecting lessons in the core subjects. Moreover, we anticipate that more collaborative planning amongst staff on Friday afternoons would increase the quality of lessons, offsetting the reduction in quantity. This appears to have been the case at Didcot Girls’ School, for example, where an early finish on Fridays was adopted some years ago.

If this proposal went ahead, would it ever be reversed in the future?

Yes, if school funding increased sufficiently in the future then this proposal could be reversed, in which case further consultation would take place and adequate notice would be given.

Why an early finish instead of a late start?

Although there is some evidence to suggest that a later start might benefit student learning more than an early finish, it is felt that the former would be more disruptive to family routines.

Why finish early on a Friday rather than another day of the week?

School sporting fixtures would not be disrupted and Friday potentially fits best with family routines. It may also be argued that learners (and teachers) are at their least fresh on Friday afternoons and therefore less learning might be lost by eliminating Friday Period 5 than, say, Monday Period 5.

How would the school mitigate any disruption caused to families if this proposal goes ahead?

Being a secondary as opposed to a primary school, we anticipate that the majority of families would not be unduly inconvenienced by this change. However, we are aware that an earlier finish might cause transport or supervision issues for some families. In such cases, we would always seek to find a solution with the individual families concerned. It is possible, for example, that limited supervision for extra-curricular activities or homework completion might be made available up to 3:00pm.

My child travels to school by bus. How would this proposal affect them?

We are consulting with the school transport department to ensure that school bus times would be altered accordingly if this proposal went ahead. Students travelling to school by public bus would be unaffected as the main services run at regular intervals throughout the day.

What will be the likely impact on the local community?

We do not anticipate a significant impact on the local community. The vast majority of our student body are pleasant and responsible young people who behave responsibly both in school and out of school. We would continue to expect the same high standards of behaviour outside school in the local area at all times.

How can I find out more about this proposal?

Attend the information evening at 6:00pm - 7:00pm on Wednesday 24 April in the Farndell Library for an opportunity to find out more and ask questions.  If you have questions but are unable to attend, please contact the governors’ clerk by email (rlockwood@wheatleypark.org) or in writing via the school.

How can I respond to this proposal?

If you are a parent/carer, there is a section for you to respond to this proposal in the current parent/carer survey accessible via this link to be completed by Friday 26 April. (Hard copies of the survey are available on request.) If you are a member of the local community, please send your response to the governors’ clerk as detailed above.

What happens next?

The school will continue to present this proposal to a range of stakeholders over the next few weeks. You may or may not be pleased to learn we are not intending to hold a referendum on this proposal. Instead, school leaders and governors will decide whether or not to go ahead based on what is in the overall best interests of the students. However, the views of parents/carers and the local community will very much be taken into account. It is expected that the final decision will be made and communicated to all before June 2019.

Tim Martin, Headteacher, and Philip Baillieu, Chair of Governors                                        24 March 2019