Norwich diocese’s academy trust will need to grow, national academies leader says

Sir David Carter, the national schools commissioner. Photo: Department for Education

Sir David Carter, the national schools commissioner. Photo: Department for Education - Credit: Archant

Norfolk's biggest academy trust will need to expand further for the government to meet its goal of all schools becoming academies by 2022, the official who oversees academies across England has said.

National schools commissioner Sir David Carter's comment about the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT) came after he addressed the organisation's staff at training event in Norwich on Friday.

As of June 2016, the trust has 28 academies - mostly small rural primary schools - while there are a further 84 Church of England schools in the diocese that are not currently academies.

He said: '[DNEAT] will need to grow, because some of their schools will only go into their multi-academy trust, and not anywhere else, but it has got to be done sensibly.'

Sir David said he did not want to put an upper limit on how big DNEAT could grow, but he imagined that if it got to the point where it had 60 academies, it would need to look at forming smaller, geographically-based hubs.

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He said: 'They are [growing] in a way that is quite intelligent. They are looking to grow incrementally. They are not in a hurry to bring their schools together, but they are trying to do that over time.'

He also praised DNEAT's strategy of bringing the strongest church schools into the trust early on, so they could provide support and challenge for the weaker schools that have been forced to convert.

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A Department for Education analysis of multi-academy trusts in 2014-15, published in July, found that DNEAT's value added score, which looks at how much progress children make, was 'significantly below average', but the improvement in its value added score was 'close to national average'.

Sir David gave the organisation a vote of confidence, stressing it was a relatively new trust, with most of its schools joining in the last two years.

He said: 'I think they are very realistic about where they are.

'I think they can do it. I think they have strong capacity, a strong board, and the support of the diocese. I think Paul [Dunning] is a strong chief executive.

'At this stage in their progression, they appear to be doing the right things, but the proof of the pudding will come in 2018 and 2019.

'My job is to ensure we continue to push on the standards agenda, while recognising the importance of the Christian ethos.'

More generally, Sir David said diocesan academy trusts were an 'important part of the strategy we have going forward', as the government aims for all schools to become academies by 2022.

He said: 'Their strengths are that, because the principle of the diocese running education is not a new concept, many of the schools have been working together for a long time already, so there is a natural collaborative culture, unlike where you are trying to build that.'

However, he added that secular and diocesan trusts should be treated in 'exactly the same way', as they faced the same issues of supporting their schools, and making sure they did not expand too quickly.

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