Smaller Norfolk schools urged to form partnerships to ensure survival

Judith Elliott-Hunter was the countys first executive head when she took the helm of Frettenham Prim

Judith Elliott-Hunter was the countys first executive head when she took the helm of Frettenham Primary School, near Coltishall, in addition to her job leading nearby Hainford Primary. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2010

Norfolk schools with fewer than 50 pupils will face annual reviews to examine their viability, and infant and junior schools will be urged to merge and become all-through primary schools.

The county council said its 'presumption against closure' policy remained in place, but it would put pressure on schools with less than 150 children to form partnerships with other schools.

The move is designed to save money and improve standards.

A report to next Thursday's Children's Services Overview Panel states: 'It is likely that financial pressures will continue to exist. Norfolk's previous strategy had been to financially support necessary small schools but this cannot now continue.'

The council will now use its powers of influence to try to persuade 122 of Norfolk's smallest schools to make fundamental changes.

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The strategy encourages all schools with fewer than 150 pupils to form partnerships with other schools, such as a federation with a single executive headteacher, budget and governing body, reducing bureaucracy and achieving economies of scale.

The first federation in Norfolk was formed between Frettenham and Hainford primary schools, near Coltishall, in 2000, with Judith Elliott-Hunter as executive head for the two schools.

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Hainford was judged 'outstanding' when last inspected by Ofsted in 2010, and Mrs Elliott-Hunter said village schools could offer a quality of education just as good as any other school.

There are now 21 federations in the county, with the largest federation, between four primary schools in Blakeney, Kelling, Walsingham and Hindringham under executive head Mary Dolan, launched in April.

Starting this autumn, schools with fewer than 50 pupils will be reviewed annually by a senior council officer who will examine factors including standards, recruitment, pupil forecasts, governor vacancies and costs per pupil.

Norfolk has 179 schools with fewer than 150 pupils, with 40 of those having less than 50. Of these, 122 are not in a collaborative arrangement, and could be asked to form one.

The strategy also encourages infant and junior schools to merge to create all-through primary schools. The county currently has more than 60 infant schools, and a similar number of junior schools.

Paul Dunning, lead adviser on school partnerships at Norfolk County Council, said: 'What the strategy says is that if you have under 50 [pupils], we would want to have an annual conversation with the governing body. Yes, you might be doing well, but how are you going to make sure you continue to do well, and if you are not doing well what are you doing to make sure standards are going to be good or better.'

He added: 'Closure is not the only option by a long, long way. It's a possibility, but let's look at working together at making the right decision for the local community, driven by the desire to have good and outstanding schools.'

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