Second academy planned for Norfolk

STEVE DOWNES A high school in one of the most challenging areas of Norfolk has been lined up to be the county's second multi-million pound academy school, the EDP can reveal.

STEVE DOWNES

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By STEVE DOWNES, Education correspondent

A high school in one of the most challenging areas of Norfolk has been lined up to be the county's second multi-million pound academy school, the EDP can reveal.

Education chiefs have identified The Park High at King's Lynn as a candidate for the radical move which would see the government pour in up to £25m - if local business sponsorship could be found to the tune of £2m.

The issue has already been discussed and supported by the school's governors and executive headteacher Dr Bob Rogers - and talks have involved the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and potential sponsors.

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Alison Croose, chairwoman of the school's governors, said: “If The Park High were to be an academy it would be a great opportunity for the school and for King's Lynn.”

She added a note of caution by saying it was “a long process”, but said school staff were “very supportive of the idea”.

The idea, which is at a very early stage and by no means certain to go ahead, will be discussed by members of Norfolk County Council's children's services review panel on January 10.

A source close to the school said the option was being considered “mainly because of falling numbers” as The Park High tried to compete for pupils with its higher achieving neighbours, King Edward VII School and Springwood High.

He said: “If it isn't supported as a plan, I would say we will lose The Park High. There won't be a school at all.”

If it went ahead, the move would see the current technology specialist school demolished and replaced with a state-of-the-art building, using government money.

The academy schools programme is one of the government's most controversial proposals for reforming the school system.

Private sponsors from business, faith or voluntary groups give a maximum of £2m in return for a large degree of control over the school's curriculum, ethos and staffing.

Academies are publicly funded, but independent of local authority control.

Plans are at an advanced stage to create the first city academy in Norfolk, on the site of Heartsease High in north Norwich.

The proposal, which would see the school demolished and replaced with a new building, is the brainchild of Christian businessman Graham Dacre, founder of the Lind Automotive Group, and the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James.

The pair hope to double the size of the school and construct the new building in an “environmentally friendly form”.

Mr Dacre, also the founder of the charitable Lind Trust, would commit £1.95m, with the Diocese of Norwich stumping up £50,000 and ongoing financial help with the provision of a chaplaincy service.

The 950 pupils would not be selected for their faith, but the school would have a “Christian ethos” and a “sacred space” for students to “engage in quiet reflection”.

Academies are established to replace weak and failing schools or to meet the basic need for school places in areas of educational underperformance and other disadvantage.

Ironically, The Park High has recently cast off the mantle of a “failing school” after a big improvement in exam attainment.

In 2005, it was ranked 45th worst in England for GCSE results after 20pc of students got five or more A*-C grades. It was also ranked 101st worst in the country for the value it added to pupils.

In 2003, the picture was even worse, with just 17pc of students getting the benchmark five or more good grades.

But earlier this year there was a big upturn, when the percentage leapt to 32pc. A-level results also improved significantly, from a 30pc pass rate at A-C in 2005 to 39pc this year.

And just three weeks ago, Norfolk County Council's director of children's services, Lisa Christensen, heaped praise on the school as she spoke at its annual prize presentation evening.

She said: “The atmosphere and energy in this school is palpable. It is a wonderful atmosphere in which to learn and teach.

“It is a caring, nurturing, good learning environment and we have seen the outcome of that with this year's very good GCSE results, which mark a significant achievement.”

The improvement was put down to a partnership between students, parents, teachers and the county council.