Thetford Free School set to go into special measures

Left to right: Nico Dobben (former headteacher), Elizabeth Truss MP, Christopher Tomlinson (deputy h

Left to right: Nico Dobben (former headteacher), Elizabeth Truss MP, Christopher Tomlinson (deputy headteacher), Christine Oakes (chair of governors) - Credit: Archant

A free school in the constituency of a former education minister and free school champion is set to be put into special measures.

Des Reynolds, of the Engage Trust.

Des Reynolds, of the Engage Trust. - Credit: Archant

The Ofsted report for the Thetford Alternative Provision Free School, for children who struggle in mainstream schools, is expected to find it 'inadequate' when published in September.

Free schools - new state-funded schools that are independent of the local authority - are a flagship government policy, and have been enthusiastically supported by Elizabeth Truss, whose South West Norfolk constituency includes Thetford.

The school opened with 19 pupils in September 2013, and Ms Truss unveiled a plaque at the school's official opening ceremony in June 2014, when she said: 'You have blazed a trail that others will want to follow and know about.'

She was not available for comment this week.

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Tim Coulson, who became regional schools commissioner in July 2014, said: 'Very soon after I started it was clearly not going well, and it's just been judged 'inadequate', which is completely correct. I entirely agree with that judgement.

'Soon after I started it was clearly of great concern, so by Christmas we said to the trust you are not running it properly.'

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Department for Education advisors had considered shutting the school, but its future is now believed to be secure since joining the Engage Trust in April.

The school's founding principal, Nico Dobben, was away from the school through illness from early September 2014 until the middle of January, and formally departed the following month.

He said: 'I'm not able to comment on the performance of the school since I left, but I felt the school was in good shape when I became ill.'

Des Reynolds, of the Engage Trust, said: 'It is a judgement of the progress of the school is over time since it opened in September 2013. It also recognises there has been a massive amount of progress since April, when Engage became the sponsor of the school, and it says the vast majority of issues identified have been addressed, or are being addressed.'

He said he hoped the school would come out of special measures within a year.

It is the second free school in the region to be rated 'inadequate' by inspectors, following IES Breckland in Brandon, which was put into special measures in March 2014.

Other free schools in Norfolk - the Free School Norwich, and the Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form - have been rated 'good'.

The Department for Education does not comment on Ofsted reports before they are published, but a spokesman said a quarter of free schools are rated outstanding compared to only a fifth of other schools.

Ofsted data published this month also shows a higher proportion of free schools have been judged 'inadequate', compared to all schools.

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