Educating Norfolk: Academies and free schools

Lord Nash, education minister, visits the former fire station in Bethel Street to start the construc

Lord Nash, education minister, visits the former fire station in Bethel Street to start the construction work for the Sir Isaac Newton Free School. Theodore Agnew, chairman of the Inspiration Trust, attacks a wall with a sledgehammer. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Archant 2013

The rise of the academy and free school movement has been the most controversial development in Norfolk education.

For supporters, freedoms over curriculum and staffing allow innovation and strong leadership; for opponents, academies fragment the system and reduce accountability.

The majority of Norfolk secondary schools are now academies, but the figure for primary schools is far below the national average.

The government expects any school put into special measures to become an academy, a policy Norfolk County Council is pursuing.

Over the past year there has been a growth in smaller, Norfolk-based academy chains.

There is also an emerging trend for local church schools, whatever their Ofsted rating, to join diocesan academy groups.

While some Norfolk academies have gained outstanding Ofsted reports and strong exam results, others have been branded inadequate by Ofsted or received warning letters from ministers.

Academies are here to stay, but even their supporters agree that simply changing a school's status is not, on its own, sufficient to guarantee a transformation.

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