Primary schools are the focus for civil servant who oversees academies in Norfolk and Suffolk

Regional schools commissioner Tim Coulson. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Regional schools commissioner Tim Coulson. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

He is the man who holds the fate of our schools in his hands. In the fourth of this week's series of interviews with key education figures, Martin George meets regional schools commissioner Tim Coulson.

Since taking up the post in July 2014, his powers have grown beyond making decisions about new and existing academies, and he now monitors non-academies, and can force those he thinks are under-performing to convert.

Mr Coulson said Norfolk and Suffolk were his focus last year, and would be 'even more our focus this year - in a positive sense'.

School performance

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How does he rate the current performance of our schools?

'If you look at inspections in both counties, the proportion of schools judged good has gone up in both', he said.

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'When all the exam results come out, there will be some great results in both those counties, but there will be quite a lot of not very good ones as well. We still think that in terms of education performance, Norfolk and Suffolk are our priority.'

Priorities for 2016-17

Mr Coulson said: 'Our priorities in Norfolk and Suffolk are still to find more of the very best primary schools to take leadership roles. In terms of volumes of schools across Norfolk and Suffolk that is still the job.'

He said he was getting 'more and more enquiries' from primary schools about this, and increasingly seeing schools approach him as a group, rather than individually.

He added: 'The other big issue in Norfolk and Suffolk is the huge numbers of church schools and the huge number of small schools. Some of the church schools are small schools.'

He pointed to different approaches by the different local diocese, with nearly all west Norfolk church schools having joined the Diocese of Ely Multi-Academy Trust, and the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust now being the biggest trust in the region.

In contrast, he said the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich had decided it would not be the only church schools trust, and was instead moving towards 'a few' diocesan academy trusts - one set up by the diocese, and the others which it facilitated

Rush to create academies?

Although the government has abandoned plans to force all schools to become academies by 2022, it still retains that aspiration.

For some, there is a danger that, with hundreds of primary schools in Norfolk and Suffolk yet to convert, any rush risked mistakes being made.

Mr Coulson said: 'We are determined to be completely relaxed about timescales and not to rush it through, because I agree about that danger if we get it wrong.'

One issue is a current shortage of sponsors needed to take responsibility for the new academies. Are there enough to fulfil the government's goal?

Mr Coulson said: 'We definitely still need more sponsors, but I feel confident the growth of sponsors will get us there. We have now got 26 sponsors in Norfolk. Six more last year. If we have six more sponsors in Norfolk each year, the world will be fine.

'Can we find six more sponsors this year? I don't know, but I think so.'

However, he pointed to gaps across mainly rural Norfolk, but praised the Evolution Trust, based at Costessey Junior, the North Norfolk Academies Trust, based at Sheringham High School, West Norfolk Academies Trust, based at Springwood High, as good models.

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