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New bid to set up Norfolk-wide ‘outdoor’ school

Richard Draper. Photo: Steve Adams

Richard Draper. Photo: Steve Adams

A new bid is being made this month to get the government to back a radical free school plan, designed to get 500-plus Norfolk children learning in the great outdoors.

Benjamin’s School was rejected earlier this year when ministers chose a host of new free schools across England.

But its backers are having another go - and are confident that it will be second time lucky for the scheme, which would have bases at five unnamed locations in Norfolk.

Supporter and sponsor Richard Draper said the “essence” of the idea had not changed, but more work was being done to meet the criteria for free school bids.

And he said there were already 200 children signed up - with parents “eager” to see the school for four-19-year-olds get started.

The deadline for the new bid is January 4, and Mr Draper - who is also chief executive of The Benjamin Foundation, which is not linked to the free school - is urging more parents to come forward to support it by December 31.

He said: “We are very hopeful. When I spoke to the Department for Education, one of the messages I got back was that there is a feeling that there hasn’t been enough innovation through free school applications.

“They also said they felt there was no reason why this application should not succeed.”

He added: “Following the last really disappointing ‘no’, we have heard some heart-rending stories of children who are missing out on a suitable education.

“There is lots of parental support for this.”

Benjamin’s School would be Britain’s largest split-site school, with bases in Norwich and the north, south, east and west of the county.

The bases, which have not yet been made public, would be used as “launching pads” for the students to get out to farms, fields, nature reserves, theatres and factories to learn.

The school’s name is a tribute to Mr Draper’s late son Benjamin.

Mr Draper added: “We have to be able to identify that there are appropriate sites, but we cannot enter into negotiations until we have permission from the government.

“All we can say is that we are committed to providing five appropriate sites in the five areas of Norfolk we would be looking to cover.”

● To find out more or to register an interest, visit www.benjaminsschool.co.uk or email benjaminsschool@gmail.com

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