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Number of academy trusts in Norfolk soars - but more will be needed

PUBLISHED: 07:00 01 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:13 05 February 2018

Hobart High School Head teacher Jim Adams with Thurlton Primary School acting headteacher Ali Hambley. The two form the Clarion Academy Trust. Picture: Nick Butcher

Hobart High School Head teacher Jim Adams with Thurlton Primary School acting headteacher Ali Hambley. The two form the Clarion Academy Trust. Picture: Nick Butcher

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The number of academy trusts running Norfolk schools has soared in the last few years - but education chiefs insist more are needed.

Hobart High School. Picture: Jim AdamsHobart High School. Picture: Jim Adams

According to Norfolk County Council figures, at the end of last year there were 33 academy trusts operating, though not necessarily based in, the county.

After the initial trickle of new trusts from 2008 onwards, the growth has gained pace in recent years - governemnt data shows that at the end of 2011 there were 15 up and running, and just four at the end of 2010.

And while many of those initial names - Ormiston Academies and the Transforming Education in Norfolk Group, for example - have now become well-established, there has been a spurt of smaller trusts, made up of a handful of nearby schools.

Among them is the Clarion Academy Trust, home to Hobart High School, in Loddon, and Thurlton Primary.

Paul Brooker, Ofsted's regional director for the east of England. Picture: OfstedPaul Brooker, Ofsted's regional director for the east of England. Picture: Ofsted

MORE: The last school standing - just one Norfolk high school not taking steps towards academisation

Its chief executive Jim Adams said while he was ambitious for the trust, which was set up last year, to grow, he had no plans to become a household name.

Beeston Park development in Old Catton/Sprowston. Picture: SuppliedBeeston Park development in Old Catton/Sprowston. Picture: Supplied

“We would like to grow bigger because the opportunities increase with that,” he said. “But at the same time we are aware that we are a community school. We work within our community and we are not looking to become a national brand.”

Education chiefs have warned that the region suffers from a lack of multi-academy trusts. Nationally, experts say hundreds more will be needed by 2020.

Paul Brooker, Ofsted’s regional director for the east, said Norfolk and Suffolk had historically struggled to attract new trusts.

A higher number stops others from growing too big, when it becomes more difficult to maintain school improvement and performance.

City Academy Norwich.  PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAYCity Academy Norwich. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

“By definition, trusts are going to take on a lot of tricky, sometimes failing, schools,” he said. “What any trust needs is a balance of strong schools to support those. If growth is too fast, sometimes trusts can end up spinning plates.

MORE: Cofounder of Norfolk’s first academy says ‘disaster’ school was transformed by the change, 10 years on

“While certain trust groups, such as Diocesan ones, accumulate schools quickly, here there is not enough trusts of 10 to 12 schools, and it’s likely more will be needed.”

Mr Brooker said there was often “friction of distance”, with the county just too far north of London for some trusts. He said the regional schools commissioner (RSC) model - where RSCs cover larger areas, such as the east of England and north-east London - went some way to improve links.

National trusts to take on local schools

The reach of national trusts in Norfolk is expected to grow in the coming year.

The Hampshire-based Bohunt Education Trust is due to take over City Academy Norwich in the coming weeks, with the plans just waiting on final ministerial approval.

Catch 22, from the same part of the country, will run the Fen Rivers Academy in King’s Lynn, which is due to open this year.

And Staffordshire-based Reach2 has today spoken more about its plans for new Norwich primaries.

Currently, the vast majority of academy trusts operating in the region are based here, with just a handful having their head offices elsewhere in the country.

Mr Brooker said prioritising local trusts was not a significant focus for Ofsted, or the government.

“The similarities in terms of challenges school face are often much greater than the differences,” he said. “That factor can be overplayed. It is good to have successful trusts, wherever they are from.”

A big name in education

While Reach2 Academy Trust is yet to arrive in Norfolk, it will soon be a prominent name in Norwich education.

The trust - which runs 52 primaries around the country - will open three new schools in the north of Norwich, which is due to welcome thousands of new homes.

Plans are very much in their infancy and locations will depend on outline planning permission, though, according to Norfolk County Council documents, the projects are referred to as White House Farm, Beeston Park primary 1 and Beeston Park primary 2, which are all near Sprowston.

The trust runs several primaries in Suffolk, including in Lowestoft and Beccles.

Sir Steve Lancashire, its chief executive, said: “We are a primary-only trust and when we became aware there was a need for new schools in the area, we were keen to play our part. Our way of working is very collaborative – we are very open about sharing our resources with other schools, whether they are part of our family, other trusts, or council run schools.”

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