Church likely to set up second academy trust in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 06:30 22 October 2016

The Bishop of Norwich visit the newly formed Flitcham Academy. The Rt Revd Graham with Felix Arkle and Eleanor Simms. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The Bishop of Norwich visit the newly formed Flitcham Academy. The Rt Revd Graham with Felix Arkle and Eleanor Simms. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2015

It started in November 2013 when Moorlands Primary in Belton, near Great Yarmouth, became an academy and joined the fledgling Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT).

Paul Dunning. Picture: ANTONY KELLYPaul Dunning. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Three years on, the organisation has more schools than any other academy trust in the east of England, with 28 primaries and one high school, and there could be up to 20 more yet to join.

Chief executive Paul Dunning reflects on where the DNEAT stands today, and what the future could hold.

New academy trust?

Mr Dunning said DNEAT could grow to about 50 schools, but that still leaves more than 50 extra church schools in the diocese that have not yet become academies.

He said the regional schools commissioner Tim Coulson, who makes decisions about academies, was clear that he did not want DNEAT to grow too big.

He said: “What the diocese is working through at the moment is whether it sets up a second academy trust to work alongside DNEAT. That is the likely outcome, and gives more flexibility.”

He said Dr Coulson thought a second trust would spread the risk should DNEAT experience any problems supporting its schools, although Mr Dunning said the downside would be the need to recruit an extra set of trustees with the appropriate skills and experience.

He said the proposal was “likely to go ahead”, and could happen during the current academic year.

He said the two academy trusts would work together as “sister companies”.

New free schools?

In July, the Church of England said it wanted to run a quarter of the 500 new free schools – which are set up from scratch and are independent of local authorities – that the government has promised to open by 2020.

What does that mean for DNEAT?

Mr Dunning said the trust had not yet put in any bids to set up free schools, but added: “I think the diocese is likely to do so. Norfolk County Council has set out where they think they may need new free schools in the future, and if we can contribute to supporting that, we would be keen to do that.”

Future of small schools

The county’s small schools have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, with Norfolk County Council voicing concerns about their sustainability, both in terms of academic standards and finances.

As an academy trust with a large proportion of small, village schools, it is an issue DNEAT is continually considering.

Mr Dunning said the trust already has a number of schools working together in federations with a single overall executive headteacher, a model he said would continue.

He added: “Some of these sites will be quite small, and populations are not growing in some areas, and so you can see there will be some in time where actual buildings could be under utilised, but we are trying to support education in rural communities, so we will have to look at that on a case-by-case basis.

“Federation is part of the answer, but it might not be the whole answer for sites with very few pupils.”

He acknowledged that some individual school sites could, in the end, have to close.

Ranking academy trusts

As the school system in England has become increasingly academised, the government has been looking for ways to judge the performance of individual academy trusts.

In July, it released league tables for academy trusts, based on their 2015 results. Only five of DNEAT’s schools were included in the calculations, and the news for the trust was mixed.

For value added – how much pupils progress from their starting points – it was judged “significantly below average”, but for the improvement made to the valued added score, it was “close to national average”.

Mr Dunning said: “Clearly we took on some challenging schools, and they were looking at schools that had been with the trust for a long amount of time.

“They are very new, developing measures, and we were skewed because the early schools were very much challenging schools, and we had not had that long to work with them.”

Last month, Sir David Carter, the national schools commissioner, who oversees the whole academy system, expressed confidence in DNEAT.

He said: “I think they are very realistic about where they are.

“I think they can do it. I think they have strong capacity, a strong board, and the support of the diocese. I think Paul [Dunning] is a strong chief executive.

“At this stage in their progression, they appear to be doing the right things, but the proof of the pudding will come in 2018 and 2019.”

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