Network of Norfolk free schools planned

The Norwich site of England's first free school can be revealed today - along with plans for a network of similar schools in Norfolk's major towns.

After months of speculation, the EDP can name the former Aviva building, Kings House on Surrey Street, as the location of Free School Norwich which is set to be the first of its kind to open in the country in September.

And the woman behind the pioneering project is already looking to set up free schools in Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn and Thetford.

Free schools, which are among the big changes introduced by education secretary Michael Gove, are funded directly by the government and have the freedom to set their own curriculum, opening times and holidays.

Free School Norwich, which got the nod from Mr Gove on Saturday along with seven other projects across England, is being set up by eight parents, teachers and business people from the Norwich area.

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Tania Sidney-Roberts, a Cringleford-based teacher who is behind the plan and will be the principal of Free School Norwich, said: 'We are delighted to have found and secured such a wonderful building to house the new school. It will provide a first-class learning environment for hundreds of Norfolk children for years to come.

'The close proximity of the building to Norwich bus station makes it an ideal location for parents from all over Norfolk who work in the city and who wish to send their children to the new school.'

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Mrs Sidney-Roberts added: 'After this one is up and running, we will need this kind of school in other parts of Norfolk, like Yarmouth, King's Lynn and Thetford. I want us to go there next.'

The school, which will cater for four to 11-year-olds, will open to reception and years one, two and three in September, before filling up the other years to reach its capacity of 168 pupils in the coming years. It will be open for 51 weeks of the year.

Mrs Sidney-Roberts said all the year groups were oversubscribed, with four times too many children vying for the 24 reception places.

Kings House is a Georgian former house, built in the early 1760s by Matthew Brettingham. It was used in recent years by Aviva but has lately stood empty.

The government is paying for the lease of the building which Mrs Sidney-Roberts said needed 'hardly any work' inside to make it ready to use.

Floor plans and plans for the garden/playground have been drawn up.

Mrs Sidney-Roberts said plans were also advanced for the 'extended school' element which will see the school open out of hours, during holidays and on Saturdays to make it easier for working parents - with the rate likely to be as low as �3.50 per hour.

? What do you think? Write to EDP letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE, email or join the debate about free schools by following @stevedownes1973 on Twitter.

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