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Suffolk: Wickham Market, Easton and Leiston primary schools opt to break with Suffolk County Council in academy trust bid

06:00 12 March 2014

Wickham Market Primary School

Wickham Market Primary School

Three east Suffolk primary schools have launched a bid to break away from county council control by setting up a new academy trust.

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Wickham Market Community Primary School, Easton Community Primary School, and Leiston Primary School are currently consulting on the move, which would give them more control over their own budgets and flexibility over how they are run.

And while they say issues with Suffolk County Council’s education department - criticised in a damning Ofsted report last week - are not the sole reason behind the proposal, they have been a factor.

Dr Peter Elliott, chair of governors at Wickham Market CPS, said forming the trust would lead to “significant advantages” and added that support from the council had been “patchy”.

He said: “We are under the wing of Suffolk County Council which has just had an Ofsted report saying they’re not supporting schools very well.

“So we thought, could we be better off as an academy and could we use our funding more specifically and more strategically?

“We weren’t surprised by the report from the level of support and encouragement we’ve had as a group locally, it’s been very patchy.”

He added: “It was in a sense a confirmation that that was the way to go.”

There are already 38 academies in Suffolk, out of the 371 schools.

The latest primaries’ proposal grew out of a working relationship between Wickham Market CPS and Easton CPS. Leiston PS was also included when the heads of the former two schools were asked to help out there.

Dr Elliott said the arrangement would improve the quality of teaching and learning as well as allowing the governors to allocate their budget more effectively.

“The thinking is that there’ll be one academy trust which is the strategic body that looks after all three schools with each school having its own group of governors looking after individual needs,” he said.

“The more varied the schools are in an academy the better and Leiston is a completely different school to Wickham Market which is completely different to Easton. Putting all the expertise together and teacher knowledge together will be a very positive thing.”

If the proposal was to go ahead it could see teachers from one school seconded to another in order to share expertise.

Dr Elliott said the trio of schools had no plans to incorporate other schools into the trust, but he could see this happening in the future.

“We don’t want to expand at the moment because we want to get ourselves settled in and we want to maintain our progress and having lots of others flooding in would dilute that,” he said.

“But we’ve already people saying they might be interested in doing that. We’d have to make sure it was schools which had the same ethos as us.”

Adrian Orr, Suffolk County Council’s interim assistant director for learning and improvement, said: “We welcome and actively encourage the working together of schools when it’s for the purpose of improving standards and raising attainment of pupils.

“The county council takes seriously its duties with regard to standards in schools, and our soon-to-be published Raising the Bar school improvement strategy sets out clear expectations, targets and action that will be taken to support and challenge schools, however, I must stress that it is ultimately the responsibility of the head teacher and governors at a school to ensure appropriate standards are achieved by pupils.

“We have welcomed Ofsted’s report and absolutely agree with the four recommended areas of improvement they have identified. Work to address each of the areas for development is already well underway. The areas for development in the report confirm that we are taking the relevant actions and tackling the right issues so that the county council is in the best possible position to support and challenge schools in the county to improve.”

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