Education secretary Michael Gove visits Attleborough, Thetford and Methwold

METHWOLD

The education secretary last night promised to listen to pleas from Norfolk headteachers to give them a flexible system which works for rural schools.

Michael Gove's final stop on a tour of the county took him to Methwold High School, near Brandon, where he attended a rural schools summit.

While there he was told of the innovative and imaginative schemes schools had come up with to overcome barriers facing them and their pupils – from the low aspirations of students and staff to their isolated locations.

But the minister was told all that hard work was often put at risk because the country's education system was geared towards urban rather than rural schools.


You may also want to watch:


Summing up the headteacher's views, Alison Thomas, county council cabinet member for children's services, said: 'Enable Norfolk's rural children to have a level playing field – that's all we are asking.'

As he got ready to make his way back to London, Mr Gove promised he had listened and would take the headteachers' concerns back to Whitehall.

Most Read

He said: 'Norfolk headteachers are adaptable, flexible and determined to raise aspirations but they want central government to recognise that running a rural school has particular problems – like transport, fair funding, and recruitment.

'The headteachers here put their case brilliantly – they effectively explained to me what they are doing already with the money they have to improve performance and they also explained in a very clear way what I can do to help.

'I have promised to look at how we can strip away some of the bureaucracy which prevents them doing it.'

The education secretary heard of the struggles faced by schools to ensure their pupils had access to a sixth form provision which, in Swaffham and Dereham, has led to the two schools teaming up to create a satellite site for Dereham Sixth Form at Swaffham Hamond's High School.

But Phyllis O'Grady, from the sixth form, said: 'It feels like we are taking a big risk. I don't feel we are getting the financial support we need.'

She said government funding only encouraged big schools to grow bigger and was not flexible enough to take account of innovations like the Dereham and Swaffham partnership.

When it comes to recruiting teachers, Liz Dormor, headteacher at Marshland High, told the secretary of state the lack of sixth forms – together with the schools' isolated locations – made it difficult to attract new blood.

'Teachers like to get A-level experience,' she said.

Once again, Norfolk's schools have been working round that by taking on unqualified teachers and training them up or encouraging young people to come in as teaching assistants to get a feel for the profession.

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who organised the summit together with Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, said bringing the Teach First initiative – which aims to attract the best graduates into schools – to Norfolk would support and enhance those efforts.

Mr Gove said his intention was to bring Teach First to every part of the country.

THETFORD

Education secretary Michael Gove praised Thetford Academy for its leadership and teaching in a visit to the school yesterday.

Mr Gove spent 90 minutes at the academy's south site, on Staniforth Road, during which time he spoke to chief sponsor David Lawrence, principal of Easton College, vice-chairman of governors Christine Oaks and principal Cathy Spillane.

He also visited the students in lessons and spent time in the academy's hair and beauty classrooms before meeting three newly-appointed Canadian maths teachers.

Mr Gove said he had been encouraged to visit the school by South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss and added: 'She explained to me staff and students at Thetford Academy had had their ups and downs in the past but that the principal was improving the school and I've been very impressed.

'It's emphasised the importance of finding the right headteacher and allowing that person to invest in the best possible teachers.

'I met the three Canadian maths teachers and it was fantastic. I got from them a sense of enthusiasm and commitment and of quality and vision. Cathy Spillane is taking the school in the right direction and I can see the students here are happy.'

Mr Gove said a scholarship scheme to encourage maths and science graduates in Britain to enter teaching would be launched by the government next month.

He added: 'I know in south west Norfolk there have been difficulties in recruiting teachers, for all sorts of reasons, but it's a lovely part of the world with lots of qualities and given the strength of the universities we're in a strong position to see teachers coming into classrooms.'

Mrs Spillane said Mr Gove's visit was testament to what the school had achieved. 'I think given how difficult the first year of the academy was in Thetford, to have him here and be so complimentary in what he's seen shows what we've been able to do.'

ATTLEBOROUGH

Teachers and governors at an Attleborough special school are hoping a visit by the education secretary will help them secure the vital support to make the dream of moving to bespoke facilities a reality.

Michael Gove was given a tour of Chapel Road School which has campaigned for more than 30 years to relocate. He was accompanied yesterday by George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, and they officially opened a new mobile classroom which houses a food technology suite and drama and sensory room.

Mr Gove also talked to headteacher Karin Heap and head of governors Terry Hickman Smith, as well as representatives from Norfolk County Council, who explained the issues the school faced and its future hopes.

The 50-year-old school, rated as outstanding by Ofsted this year, teaches children with complex education needs. It had been scheduled for a re-build at a new site under the previous government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, but hopes were dashed when the new administration cancelled the scheme last year.

But with the help of local social entrepreneur Robert Ashton, the school looked for alternative ways of funding and potential sites. Earlier this year it was announced the school had identified a preferred new home next to Wymondham College and it is negotiating to acquire the land and complete a financial plan.

Mr Gove gave no assurances of additional funding but pledged to take the school's case back to his department. He said the school was an 'inspirational' example of what can be done when a community rallies behind it. 'When the Building Schools for the Future had to be shelved it was very difficult and the schools I felt most for were special schools as they are the ones that need the most intelligent investment to help children in the most need.'

Mrs Heap said: 'This gives us a huge boost and we've shown ourselves at our best.'

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter