Find out about Norfolk’s first special academy

The creation of Norfolk's first special academy could pave the way to much-needed new schools for young people with complex educational needs in the county.

Eaton Hall School in Norwich, twice rated outstanding by Ofsted, yesterday completed its conversion and became Eaton Hall Academy –gaining autonomy over its budget, curriculum, term dates and opening times.

But headteacher Valerie Moore said the move was not sparked by a wish to break free of local authority control.

She said the school was motivated by a desire to help more pupils with special educational needs and help Norfolk County Council with its aim of sending fewer youngsters outside of the county by setting up Free Schools.

She said: 'The school will run the same now as it was last week but we are trying to expand our resource and we will be able to help other schools.

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'We have looked for some time at trying to support more children in Norfolk. There are, unfortunately, more children being born with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and specific special needs and, as a county, Norfolk needs to be able to provide special care.

'We want to work with the local authority to provide the right resources for children in Norfolk.'

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Norfolk County Council last year had to use �10.5m of its SEN funding to cover the cost of sending young people to non-maintained schools, including outside of Norfolk.

On average, a place at a state-run school – including special schools and mainstream schools where extra support is funded – is �17,000-�18,000, though they can vary from �10,000 to �30,000.

Non-maintained or independent placements cost between �35,000 and more than �100,000 with the average between �50,000-�75,000.

As part of its SEN strategy set in 2009, the county council had hoped to build two new schools in Long Stratton and Swaffham, but the change of government in 2010 led to the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future fund and new education secretary Michael Gove announcing all new schools should be in the form of academies.

It means the council is unable to attract the capital funding needed to build new schools.

Eaton Hall has now set up an academies trust, so it can support other special schools in and outside Norfolk as an academy sponsor.

Academy trusts are also able to apply to create Free Schools.

Miss Moore, who will become the trust's executive headteacher, said Eaton Hall planned to submit a proposal this month for a special free school, catering for about 54 primary-school-aged boys and girls with emotional, social and behavioural difficulties.

Her academy is currently the only state-maintained provision within Norfolk for children with those complex needs. A boys-only school, it has only a very small number of places for Key Stage 1 children.

Miss Moore said: 'We wouldn't want to stop at one Free School. We would look to build one near us in Norwich but you can't have children travelling from King's Lynn. We would also look at a second school to serve the west of the county – but we have to take little steps to start with.'

Last night, Gordon Boyd, assistant director of children's services at Norfolk County Council, said: 'This is a very sensible way forward and the county council has worked closely with the governors and headteacher at this outstanding school to help make this move. This will strengthen the education system of Norfolk.'

A department for education spokesman said there were currently just 57 special academies in England out of a total of 2,456 academies.

Miss Moore said she felt passionately that sending children with complex behavioural and emotional difficulties out of Norfolk to go to school created a new set of barriers for them.

She hoped other special schools in the county would consider following Eaton Hall's lead.

Of Norfolk's 11 special schools, six are currently rated outstanding by Ofsted, four are considered good and one is satisfactory.

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