Norfolk could spearhead all-age schools revolution

Norfolk could be at the forefront of a radical plan to set up scores of 'all-age schools', where children are educated straight through from age three to 16 or 18.

Education bosses are pushing the idea in some parts of the county, where – if it catches on – the days of changing between schools at age seven or 11 could end.

The plan would see neighbouring schools from the primary and secondary sector merge under one executive headteacher and a single governing body.

A report to yesterday's Norfolk County Council children's service overview and scrutiny panel said the move could:

Protect smaller schools from closure by making them part of a larger school on more than one site;

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End the traditional 'dip' in pupil performance when youngsters move between schools;

Enhance the flexibility of the curriculum;

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Improve schools' ability to target money at the greatest areas of need;

Boost test and exam results;

Save money.

The report said: 'There is now a growing interest throughout the education community in the innovative re-organisation of schools, moving away from the tradition of educating children in clearly defined phase or key stage schools, and setting up all-age institutions.

'In Norfolk, all-through schooling might be viewed as a logical extension to the local authority's commitment to reducing the number of transfers between schools, and to the current moves towards federations between schools.

'It may prove to be an appropriate model, particularly in rural communities, to ensure the sustainability of high quality and cost-effective local education provision.'

It added a warning that any move to an all-age school must engage 'the whole community' and be led by people with a 'genuine belief' in its power to bring about sustained improvements.

On Tuesday, the council's cabinet gave final approval to Norfolk's first all-age school, with Methwold High and Hockwold Primary becoming one institution under headteacher Denise Walker.

The county already has a number of management partnerships, where neighbouring primary-phase schools have come together under a single headteacher.

There are also 10 federations, with another eight in the pipeline, where primary-sector schools have a single governing body.

But, with the exception of Methwold High and Hockwold Primary, there are not yet any formal collaborations between primary and secondary schools.

At the meeting, Mark Kiddle-Morris told fellow councillors that governors from Litcham federation of schools had 'decided to go through to all-through school status in the near future'.

The panel backed the report, with Jennifer Chamberlin saying: 'I think it's a very good idea and a good model for our smaller schools.'

The report was welcomed by Stephen Adamson, chairman of Norfolk Governors' Network.

He said 'We welcome schools working closely together and all-age schools is one model which can work. A key thing that needs to be considered, however, is the governance and leadership arrangements for such schools.

'It is absolutely crucial to get these right from the off and to make sure that the needs of the different age groups are fully considered and catered for. This can be particularly difficult to achieve when you are bringing together primary and secondary schools under a single leadership team and a single governing body.'

The report, which recommended councillors looked into the idea as a 'potential model for some, mainly rural, Norfolk schools', cites Serlby Park, an all-age school in Nottinghamshire.

The school teaches all 14-16-year-olds in mixed-age classes to study two GCSE subjects in a year - meaning most students have four GCSEs at age 15 and some can start AS-levels one year early, in year 11.

? To read Steve Downes's blog, visit Follow @stevedownes1973 on Twitter.

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