From the army to the academy - new principal Lee takes charge

Lee Francis, new principal of the Diamond Academy in Thetford. Photo: Bill Smith

Lee Francis, new principal of the Diamond Academy in Thetford. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

From Doncaster to Cyprus, to Germany and now Thetford, no one could accuse Lee Francis of a lack of adventure.

His latest role, as principal of Diamond Academy, is his first permanent role in the top job and he is approaching it with a positive zeal.

The Yorkshire raised 38-year-old has moved to the school from the John Buchan School, in Paderborn, Germany.

Despite eight years in military schools, he insists culture shock is not a problem.

'It's the same at any school. The way you are going to improve standards and the way to improve a school is basically by improving the teaching and learning. 'We need to make sure children are engaged, that there's participation. All children have different needs and it's about making sure we know what those needs are and that teaching and learning is as engaging as possible.'

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Mr Francis takes over the school a year after it first became an academy, with previous principal, Laura Jestico, having left in March.

The school was run by an executive principal from its sponsors, the Academy Transformation Trust (ATT), until the summer.

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Its last Ofsted inspection saw it rated as satisfactory, and Mr Francis said he has seen few problems at the school.

'We were in a stable place when I came in and for me it's making sure the basics are there and we get it all right.

'Everyone has been very positive since I started here and we are trying to engage with the community as much as possible so that can continue.'

An ex-police officer and Doncaster Rovers fan, he knows a little about serving something bigger than yourself.

He has taken that attitude into his headship and his relationship with the academy's sponsors reflects it.

While many see the academy system's strength lying in the freedom and flexibility it offers schools, Mr Francis identifies the support system he has as a benefit.

'I really like the academy system. Some are stand alone while we are part of a trust and I really like that. Admirals, Iceni, Norwich Road are all in and it's like having a big family. I can phone another principal and we've all got the same ATT vision.

'Autonomy is great but at the end of the day we are working for a trust and we're all hoping and building towards their vision and we want to have it here too. We all want to drive up standards.'

The academy's backing has also allowed the school to invest in new facilities, with ICT top of its priorities.

Mr Francis refers to the 'iPad generation' and says new equipment is being installed this week.

It includes a new '3D classroom' where projected 3D screens will allow pupils to get involved in more interactive learning.

His selfless approach to the school doesn't stop at the sponsors, and his commute from Yorkshire every Monday morning - setting off at 4.30am - shows it.

He says he is learning about the Thetford area while staying in a B&B during the week, and will look at moving down in the new year.

If he can reach his target of making the Diamond Academy an outstanding school, parents will be hoping that his travelling days are over.

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