A pioneering union of three North Devon primary schools has gone from strength-to-strength in its first 15 months of life. Lynton, Parracombe and Kentisbury joined forces in January last year to create the West Exmoor Federation, with one headteacher, one

A pioneering union of three North Devon primary schools has gone from strength-to-strength in its first 15 months of life.Lynton, Parracombe and Kentisbury joined forces in January last year to create the West Exmoor Federation, with one headteacher, one budget and one aim: to ensure youngsters could continue to go to their local school.It means resources are shared, with teaching skills and finances used where they will do the most good.Heads from each small school approached Devon County Council with the idea of "federating" to ensure long-term survival, in the face of falling pupils numbers and ever tighter budgetary constraints.It was the first of its kind in Devon and although a similar arrangement has been established in the south, it remains the only one in North Devon.Jayne Peacock at Lynton is Executive Head of the Federation, with Vicky Cawley and Clare Cooke as heads of teaching and learning at Lynton and Kentisbury respectively, while Laura Fry - acting deputy head of the federation - is at Parracombe."Each school has retained its own unique identity," said Jayne."There was no suggestion either Kentisbury or Parracombe would close, but looking ahead we wanted to ensure the future of the schools was secure - we wanted to be proactive rather than wait for a solution."The county council has been extremely supportive and so have the parents. Inevitably there were a few concerns, but now I think they are all behind it and can see benefits for the children and the additional opportunities."With the addition of a federation minibus, children at the three schools have seen an increase in the numbers of trips and residential activities the combined resources can offer them, as well as a wider pool of friends and "classmates" to stand them in good stead when they move on to Ilfracombe College.Vicky said the union had removed the fear of the unknown and added:"The money situation has not changed a great deal, but the schools have different resources and we can share them, which makes a huge difference."A small school more often than not has only one teacher per Key Stage, but now teachers can plan and work together, something which larger schools might take for granted."Clare Cooke said a wider pool of staff meant there could be more focus on developing individual subjects and skills as teachers now had more freedom to specialise. "For example we have a special needs teacher who now works across all three schools," she said.The initiative is seen as an example for others to follow and in May a delegation of UK headteachers will be visiting the schools to see a federation in action for themselves."The federation is still evolving and we're hoping more children in the catchment area will attend one of our schools," said Jayne."It's something totally new and we've had no blueprint to follow, which has allowed us to be quite pioneering in our approach, but at the end of the day the children are at the heart of what we are doing.