Governors at Downham Market High School exploring “best options” for school’s future

Downham Market High School, which has more than 1,700 pupils, is considering becoming an academy to ensure 'rapid improvement', it was announced today.

Governors attended a meeting at the west Norfolk school last night to discuss the possibility of securing academy status.

It comes after the school, one of the largest secondary schools in the county, was served with a notice to improve by Ofsted in December.

A statement released by the school today said: 'Our school is now rapidly improving after what have been a tough couple of years and we have a revitalised senior team and dedicated and committed staff determined to make the progress that the community expects.

'We are confident that this year will bring significant improvements in exam results but it is essential to look at all of the strategies available to ensure this improvement continues.

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'This includes developing partnerships and links with strong organisations or groups that have the skills and systems to help the school to succeed.

'It is only right that our governors consider all the options open to them to ensure rapid improvement, including academy status.

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'This would allow the school to benefit from a partner's experience, support and oversight.

'Governors are considering whether to develop this further and are continuing to work with the county council to explore the best options for the school's future.

'They have a duty to ensure the best strategy for the school and this includes working with partners that will bring benefits to students and their learning.'

Alison Chapman, chair of governors, told the EDP today: 'I am not prepared to answer any questions.'

Academies are publicly-funded independent schools given extra freedoms including the way they deliver the curriculum. Currently there are 16 academies in Norfolk.

Downham High School was visited by Ofsted in March of last year and inspectors found it to be 'inadequate', although sixth-form provision was effective with above-average attendance.

The government body asked the school to address anti-social behaviour and lack of respect shown by a minority of students.

The school, which has more than 1,700 pupils, was also asked to ensure all teaching was at 'least good' and to raise standards of attainment for all students.

Ofsted also asked the management to ensure the school had a planned approach to the promotion of community cohesion.

After a follow-up inspection in November, Ofsted inspector Stephen Abbott sent a notice to improve to the school.

'Having considered all the evidence, I am of the opinion that at this time the school is making inadequate progress in addressing the issues for improvement and in raising the students' achievement,' he wrote.

The report said the school would be visited by inspectors again between now and August.

The notice said there had been changes since headteacher Jon Ford arrived in June and some areas highlighted were improving.

'The school has made good progress in improving the effectiveness of senior leaders and the governing body. This has resulted in some improvements in provision. Teachers and other members of staff are mostly responding positively to the higher demands being made of them,' he said.

In a recent school newsletter, Mr Ford told parents the spring term had seen the introduction of a new behaviour system based on 'the school's agreed principles of mutual respect'.

He wrote: 'A key change in the new system is a comprehensive rewards programme which will ensure that the vast majority of students who work hard and do the right thing get recognition for their efforts.'

He later added: 'Learning is at the heart of what we do here and as a learning organisation it is essential we hear the full range of voices of our community, be they staff, students, parents and the wide range of interest and activity groups in Downham Market.'

Downham Market High School is one of the largest in East Anglia partially due to its large catchment area. It is divided between two separate campuses, with the main Bexwell campus teaching students years seven to 11 and the Ryston campus teaching further education to sixth-form students years 12 to 13.

It opened in September 1980 as the amalgamation of three former secondary schools in the town _ Downham Market Grammar, Downham Market Boys' School and Downham Market Girls' School.

This latest news also comes after the Academy Transformation Trust revealed it was seeking government approval to take over nearby Swaffham Hamond's, as well as Hockwold and Methwold community school, in September.

The trust is also due to take over Queensway junior school at Thetford in September, and chief executive Ian Cleland has said the trust was seeking to build a portfolio of special, primary and secondary schools.

In August 2011, there were 1,070 academies in England. Academies are expected to follow a broad and balanced curriculum, but with a particular focus on one or more areas.

Current specialisms include science, arts, business and enterprise, computing, engineering, maths and computing, modern foreign languages, performing arts, sport, and technology

Academies can select up to 10pc of pupils by aptitude for the school's specialism, in a way similar to specialist schools.

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