Free schools: Three successful applications, and one failed bid
PUBLISHED: 08:02 10 March 2015 | UPDATED: 08:02 10 March 2015
A new school for children who are on the autism spectrum is among three Norfolk free schools applications that have won government approval.
The Wherry School in Norwich will cater for pupils who, due to their autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), cannot access a mainstream school.
It will be set up by a charitable trust, which includes Barry Payne, head of Parkside Complex Needs School, who said that last year more than 50 pupils with autism were excluded from Norfolk schools.
The two other free schools will be sponsored by the Inspiration Trust: the Trafalgar College, a high school in Great Yarmouth, and the Charles Darwin Primary, in Norwich.
Free schools are new, state-funded schools, set up independently of the local authority. Those currently open in the region include the Jane Austen College and Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form in Norwich, both sponsored by the Inspiration Trust, the Thetford Alternative Provision Free School, IES Breckland in Brandon, and the Beccles Free School.
PM promises more free schools - but evidence of success disputed
The three successful Norfolk free school applications were among 49 across England announced by the prime minister, bringing the total number to more than 400.
David Cameron also announced a future Conservative government would aim to open 500 more free schools in the next parliament.
His speech coincided with disputed research from a think tank claiming free Schools raise standards for other pupils across the local community, as well as for pupils who attend them.
The research by the Policy Exchange, a think-tank set up by former education secretary Michael Gove, looked at results in the three geographically closest ‘similar’ schools to the 171 relevant free schools opened so far, and said competition is driving up standards at both primary and secondary level.
The National Union of Teachers deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “The NUT does not accept the conclusions of this report. The findings claimed by the authors are not supported by the ‘evidence’ presented in the report itself and the authors themselves admit that no link can be made between the cause and effects that they nevertheless seek to claim for the Free School policy, stating: ‘It should be obvious - but bears setting out explicitly - that such data cannot demonstrate conclusively that any changes seen are as a response to the new Free School’.”
A bid by the Plymouth Brethen Christian Church to set up the East Anglian Primary Academy in Thetford was turned down, as were two Suffolk applications: NAS Sherrington School, and The Compass Free School
Mick Castle, Labour county councillor for Great Yarmouth, said: “I take the view that the Great Yarmouth High School and new Trafalgar College are both enormously important to the regeneration of the town and raising aspirations.
“Links with the emerging energy industries will be central to nurturing skilled local workers and professionals to take the well-paid new jobs coming into the town over the coming decade. The Trafalgar College will have a distinctive offer that will bring something new to what is currently on offer.”
The new schools, none of which currently have a location, are due to open in September 2016.
The Wherry School
The school will be for up to 100 pupils, aged four to 19, on the autism spectrum.
Barry Payne, a member of the charitable trust which will establish it, said: “It gives us the opportunity to look at the curriculum, the school year, and how children can be supported. It’s not just going to be 39 weeks a year. We are going to be trying to work on a 48-week year.”
It was originally planned for the Hewett School site in Norwich, but with its future uncertain it is not clear if The Wherry will go there.
The new high school in Great Yarmouth is set to have about 850 pupils when full.
Executive principal Ian Burchett said it would address the skills gap faced by local energy firms hoping to employ school leavers.
He said: “This is a real win for the community. Right from the very early days, we were going out to the community, talking to the people and every single one of them was enthusiastic.”
He said agreeing a location was the next priority, with options already on the table.
Charles Darwin Primary
This new Norwich primary school will be sponsored by the Inspiration Trust.
Claire Heald, who will be executive principal, said it will now seek a school principal and a location.
She said: “It’s about a solid academic traditional curriculum, but then the wider opportunities that then fit around that. Our students need to leave as fully rounded students, ready to be leaders of the next generation.”
It is due to have 400 pupils when full.
East Anglian Primary
One Norfolk free school application was rejected.
The Focus Learning Trust, controlled by the traditionalist Plymouth Brethen Christian Church (PBCC), wanted to set up the East Anglian Primary Academy in Thetford.
Spokesman Jake Whiteside said: “The proposed school was designed to support the new 5,000 housing development in Thetford in a region which already lacks primary school placements.”
It has not decided whether to re-apply.