National Trust and Sainsbury Centre among partners as seven Aylsham-area schools link up

The National Trust and the Sainsbury Centre are among the organisations set to offer their expertise to seven north Norfolk schools that are bidding to join forces.

Schools in the Aylsham cluster are applying for foundation status to enable them to formalise years of working more closely together.

And the trust that will oversee the partnership will include representatives from the two prestigious organisations, plus the Benjamin Foundation, City College Norwich and Norfolk County Council.

Five schools are applying for foundation status: Aylsham High, Buxton Primary, Bure Valley School at Aylsham, Aldborough Primary and John of Gaunt Infant and Nursery.

The two other schools that are set to join the foundation trust are Erpingham Primary and St Michael's Nursery and Infant at Aylsham. As church schools, both already have foundation status.

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The schools will all retain their own headteachers and governing bodies, but aim to work even more closely together to improve what they can offer to their pupils and staff.

Under the move, the schools' land and buildings will transfer from the county council to the trust, while they will also take control of some areas of administration.

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In a move that is designed to give everyone a say in what happens, all parents, students and community groups will be invited to become members of a trust co-operative.

The co-operative will have a forum, made up of representatives from each of the groups, where their views will be heard.

Duncan Spalding, headteacher at Aylsham High, said: 'This effectively creates a brains trust to work together for the benefit of education and families in this area.

'The Aylsham cluster is already very strong. The level of work that we do is very different to that in other parts of Norfolk. 'We all want to ensure that this work goes on into the future, and does not depend on who takes over at the schools.'

Fiona Chant, headteacher at John of Gaunt Infant School in Aylsham, said the cluster schools had already benefited from working together, and added: 'We're very excited about working with our new partners as well, including the Benjamin Foundation and the National Trust.'

Deborah Leahy, headteacher at Buxton Primary, said: 'I think this will bring about sustainable local support and will strengthen relationships between headteachers, teaching assistants and teachers. It is very good news for the children in the cluster.

'And teachers can become quite isolated in smaller schools. Being able to meet with professionals from other schools is bound to enhance practice.'

Mr Spalding said the link-up was 'not about saving money', but said it did open up such opportunities through sharing services. He added that the schools would work to enhance collaboration on numeracy, literacy and other areas of education.

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