Concordia Academy has been on quite a journey. The primary free school opened in 2016 on a temporary site that wasn’t ready, so the first cohort of children spent six weeks based at another school in the trust – REAch2. Students made do with one room that was not designed for teaching.
When the temporary portakabins arrived, they had no electricity, heating or water. They were also three kilometres away from the school’s catchment area in Romford, which meant two years of busing students to school.
Despite this turbulent start, Concordia has gone from strength to strength and was rated Outstanding in all areas by Ofsted last summer.
Now safely ensconced in their new state-of-the-art permanent building, headteacher Raheel Akhtar shared some invaluable experience he has picked up along the way.
From temporary to permanent
Site related issues took up a lot of time in the first couple years. Raheel had to attend multiple building design meetings, an unusual experience for a headteacher. Many free school leaders find such meetings a challenge and beyond their expertise. However, school leaders know what is best for their school and shouldn’t be afraid to assert themselves. After all, they are the ones who will be running the school for years to come.
As meetings go on, it’s not uncommon for budgets to come under pressure and designs to get scaled back from what was originally promised. Because of this, it’s a good idea to put everything that is agreed in each meeting in writing to be able refer back to previous commitments.
Raheel advised making friends with the architects and constructors. Instead of finding out what they have been doing in meetings, they should tell you directly, so ring for regular updates.
Once the permanent site had been built, the handover period began. Site handover doesn’t happen in a day; Concordia’s senior leadership team has been going to meetings for over a year. Raheel advised filming all handover meetings, making it easier to train other staff in complicated systems, including operating the school heating and locking up the school.
Even though Concordia had two years of delays in their temporary building, Raheel said the most important thing was to not allow this to dominate everyday life at school. Education always came first. When the students were told they were moving to the new site, all they cared about was whether their teachers were coming too – a testament to Raheel’s focus on the quality of teaching and learning. Concordia’s building was constructed offsite and brought in. This is an increasingly common construction method.
If your school is being constructed offsite and you would like to see a completed building, please contact email@example.com and we can put you in touch with a school. You can learn more about offsite construction from the DfE’s Customer Journey guide.
Strong finances in a small, growing school
Recruiting the school business manager (SBM)
SBMs who have a lot of financial expertise will not always have as much experience in other areas. As a small school, Raheel hired a SBM who was experienced in HR and office management because the school did not have the resources to hire a dedicated office manager. He then taught them to use the finance system and they upskilled as the school grew.
The school’s SBM is in charge of income generation, mainly from lettings. Concordia decided not to use a lettings agency to avoid commissioning fees and expanded the SBM’s role to include this.
The site manager’s contract was also expanded to include coming in for late evening and weekend lettings. While that does cost money, it’s worth it. The site manager only comes in a couple of times at the beginning of each letting to show the group where to go and to teach them how to lock up. After a couple of weeks, each letting is fully independent.
With lettings, it’s important to think ahead – what areas of the school can be hired out and how might that change as the school grows? Also think about creating extra storage to be used for lettings.
In the first couple of years, localise the school to save on heating and electricity bills. While the school will eventually increase to three-form entry, Concordia currently has one form of entry in some years. The existing classes are next to each other to so the rest of the building doesn’t need to be heated or lit.
Recruiting the first cohorts
Very few heads of established primary schools visit nurseries. It’s a good idea to take advantage of this as a new free school and build relationships with local nurseries to boost pupil recruitment. In exchange, Concordia gives out leaflets for the nurseries to the school’s parents who also have younger children.
English as an additional language
Over two thirds of Concordia’s students speak English as an additional language. To ensure this doesn’t put pupils at a disadvantage, there is an extra focus on reading, writing and phonics from the offset. Daily reading is a protected lesson and is not allowed to be moved.
They also use a technique called ‘partner talk’. All students are partnered up and together they discuss around 90% of questions asked in class. This encourages children to talk to each other and develop verbal skills. The teacher can ensure children are following the correct conversational cues, such as giving proper eye contact, praising each other and asking questions.
11 Before 11 Scheme
Concordia runs an ’11 Before 11’ scheme, where all children experience 11 unique experiences before they turn 11; such as residential trips and outdoor activities like mountain climbing. The scheme is organised and run by one of the teaching assistants, which in turn gives her the opportunity for professional development.
Many thanks to the team at Concordia for holding such an interesting and informative event! It was so inspiring to see your commitment to delivering an outstanding education to your students. For expert advice on any of the topics covered contact firstname.lastname@example.org.