SCHOOLS across south Essex are vying for new Government trust status in the hope of winning greater independence and extra cash.
For schools in Billericay, the changes could mean education in the town will never be the same again.
All the town's state infant, junior and secondary schools may join forces in a new trust. The trust would take key decisions on education away from County Hall and put them firmly in the hands of
Ten of Billericay's 15 state schools have now been accepted as "Early Adopters", allowing them to try a taste of independence before committing themselves to it.
In about 18 months, they will decide if they really want to go it alone.
The Billericay schools are among 15 across south Essex accepted on the Early Adopters scheme.
Trust schools are similar to the existing foundation schools. Their governors employ staff, set admission arrangements and take many the key decisions currently made by local education
Billericay schools have been working closely for 15 years in a federation known as the Billericay Education Community.
Now Linda Bamford, head of one of the town's two secondary schools, Mayflower High, says all 15 schools seem keen to go it alone.
She added: "This is our opportunity to put working together on a more formal basis.
"It's a step we can't ignore. In some respects, it is quite an exciting opportunity to do something differently.
"The Early Adopters scheme gives you a toolkit to explore what the trust means, what it is like and how it benefits the school."
In Leigh, Tom Wilson, head of St Christopher's special school, is also putting forward his school as an Early Adopter.
He explained: "It's part of the move for schools to be representative of the community they serve.
"The aim for us would be to make sure the future development of the school was overseen by the community, which would then plan how the school would grow."
If all goes to plan and the St Christopher's bid is accepted, it could be a trust school in as little as 18 months' time.
"The Early Adopters scheme gives us the chance to look at how it would work for this school," Mr Wilson added.
Thorpe Bay School - not long out of special measures, after being branded as failing by Ofsted - has formed a partnership with Prospects College to become a trust school.
Sally Carr, Southend councillor responsible for education, is happy to to see some of her schools breaking away - with certain reservations.
She explained: "It was the right route for Thorpe Bay, because it it brings in extra cash.
"In certain circumstances, it is beneficial, but what I don't want to see is the break-up of the community of schools in Southend.
"To provide a good standard of education, especially in secondary schools, they are going to have to work together.
"I'm happy for schools to be self-governing, but we have to make sure there is good communication between all the schools, to benefit the children."
Essex County Council has just agreed a scheme to overhaul Canvey's secondary schooling over the next ten years.
Plans include the closure of Furtherwick Park School, with the site being used to house a new vocational centre.
The island's two remaining secondary schools, Castle View and Cornelius Vermuyden, have applied for joint trust status.
Russell Sullivan, head of Castle View, believes the reorganisation of secondary education on Canvey presents of "opportunities and challenges" over the coming years.
He said: "The idea of a trust overseeing the education of all 11 to 19-year-olds on the island is an attractive one, given the proposed changes.
"We decided to apply for trust status via the scheme to benefit from funding and so we could explore the benefits."
The 15 south Essex schools in the scheme
* Castle View School, Canvey
* Cornelius Vermuyden School, Canvey
* The St Christopher School, Leigh
* Chafford Hundred Campus, Thurrock
* Gable Hall School, Corringham
* Billericay School, Billericay
* Buttsbury Infant School, Billericay
* Buttsbury Junior School, Billericay
* Mayflower High School, Billericay
* Quilters Infant School, Billericay
* Quilters Junior School, Billericay
* South Green Infant School, Billericay
* South Green Junior School, Billericay
* Sunnymede Infant School, Billericay
* Sunnymede Junior School, Billericay