The head of Fakenham High School and College this week offered an upbeat vision of education in the town if a move towards academy status went ahead.

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Matthew Parr-Burman answered questions from parents at a public meeting at the college conference centre.

He explained that a move to academy status would not bring dramatic curriculum changes, different school hours or a requirement to sit entrance exams.

The meeting was part of a public consultation exercise. Mr Parr-Burman said the change could happen as early as April this year.

He said: “Whatever happens this school will remain a local community school working hard to ensure students from all backgrounds get the best grades they possibly can.”

He added: “While I am very pleased with the post 16 results being achieved here our performance in GCSEs has faltered over the last three years. We are passionate about improving that situation.”

Asked if entrance exams could be brought in if the school and college becomes an academy, Mr Parr-Burman said: “Over my dead body.”

Academies are publicly-funded schools which operate outside local authority control.

Essentially they have more freedom than other state schools over finances, curriculum and teachers’ pay and conditions.

They are funded directly by the government rather than through the local authority and are subject to Ofsted inspections like normal state schools.

Fakenham High School and College will become part of the recently-established Transforming Education in Norfolk (TEN Group) a partnership between City College Norwich, City Academy Norwich, Wayland Academy and Norfolk University Technical College if it becomes an academy.

Mr Parr-Burman said: “The government sees academies as the way forward. As more schools become academies the support I will be able to access from the local authority will be increasingly diminished.

“If we become an academy we will have a fantastic opportunity to work with the TEN Group.

“We will be able to access extra resources and TEN will help keep us focused.

“Crucially it will also mean my time will be freed from a lot of administrative tasks so I will be able to concentrate more on improving the quality of teaching and learning.

“This should result in an increase in standards generally and help students to achieve better grades.”

Dick Palmer, chief executive of TEN Group, said City College Norwich, City Academy Norwich and Wayland Academy had all seen results improve dramatically since joining the group.

He said Wayland Academy, formerly Wayland High School in Watton, achieved its best ever set of GCSE results last year with 80pc of students achieving at least five GCSEs.

Critics of academies say they are a move to the privatisation of education through the back door.

In a statement the Anti Academies Alliance said: “Whilst some academies have done well, others have not. There is no academies ‘magic bullet.’ Nor is there any evidence that academies either raise attainment or close the attainment gap. Attainment is improved by improved teaching and learning.”

The alliance argues that academies have more freedom than state schools over admissions which could disadvantage children from poor backgrounds.

It also claims that academies “create a jungle where schools are competing over teachers’ pay and conditions and many schools lose out as a result.”

The alliance adds that through undermining the role of local authorities in education the academies system means there will be less collective accountability to the community through elected local councillors.

The consultation ends on January 18. People can contact the high school and college on 01328 862545 to find out how they can make their views known.

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