Council sought free school sponsor without knowing minister had already made the decision

Regional schools commissioner Tim Coulson. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Regional schools commissioner Tim Coulson. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A council launched a four-month process to decide who should run a new primary school in Sprowston - only to find the government had already made the decision without telling it.

Education secretary Justine Greening revealed last Friday that Reach2, the largest chain of primary academies in England, would run the new free school planned for White House Farm in Sprowston.

The announcement came just four days after Norfolk County Council held an event, attended by representatives from a number of other academy trusts, to launch its own process to choose the sponsor.

The council gave bidders until October 21 to apply, with interviews due in November. It then planned to make a recommendation about its preferred sponsor to regional schools commissioner Tim Coulson, who has the final say, and expected an announcement in January.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: 'This isn't what we were expecting. We're disappointed it wasn't a competitive process, and are seeking further clarification from the regional schools commissioner.'

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The school was one of three new free schools in the Norwich area that were awarded to Reach2, with the other two on Beeston Park, a 3,500 home development in Old Catton and Sprowston.

Mr Coulson said an application for a free school on the site was made in March, which the council was made aware of.

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He said that, over the summer, ministers had approved Reach2's bid, but he had been unable to give the council an indication of the minister's thinking.

He said: 'From the local authority's point of view, I can see it's a bit annoying. The time scales all grate a bit.

'At the moment, the minister's view trumps the local authority's view, in crude language. If you are a local authority, it's not great.'

He said he did not want the council to waste its time, and thought perhaps the council should have been advised to wait until October before launching its own process.

One Norfolk headteacher, who asked not to be named, said: 'One of the few roles left for local authorities is place planning. How can local authorities carry out their job of place planing if they don't have all the information?'

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