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Gorleston school bids for academy role

PUBLISHED: 11:09 27 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:56 06 July 2010

A troubled Norfolk high school which has struggled through special measures, a financial crisis and five headteachers in six years is the latest in the region to look to academy status for salvation.

A troubled Norfolk high school which has struggled through special measures, a financial crisis and five headteachers in six years is the latest in the region to look to academy status for salvation.

The governors at Oriel High, in Gorleston, have asked Norfolk County Council to consider preparing the groundwork for the school to become an academy - an independent state school free of local authority control - by September 2011.

At a meeting at the school last week, the county's head of education Fred Corbett is understood to have reassured concerned staff that the move would not have job implications for them.

If the plan is approved by the county council's cabinet and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, a feasibility study will be carried out which will include a search for suitable sponsors for the new institution, which would have similar freedom to independent schools.

The quest to become an academy, which would bring a massive injection of government cash to improve buildings and equipment, is now seen by governors as the most realistic way of raising educational standards with the school still languishing near the bottom of the region's GCSE league tables.

The Open Academy, the first of two Norfolk academies to date, doubled the percentage of students getting five A to C GCSEs, including maths and English, in the first year of taking over from the old Heartsease High School in Norwich. In September next year, it will transfer to a spectacular domed building on the same site.

However, the concept of academies has also attracted controversy with one former Oriel head, Geoff Best, recently branding the spending of so much money on one school unfair.

Trevor Wainwright, chairman of the governors at Oriel, said: “We have been on a list of schools that the LEA has identified as possible academies for at least four years.

“We always resisted it in the past because we thought Oriel could turn the corner through closer collaboration with the other local high schools, Lynn Grove and Cliff Park. However, our plans for a collective trust bringing the expertise of the individual schools to the whole community have had limited success, although collaboration has improved.”

Mr Wainwright stressed that something had to be done - although GCSE results were improving they were still well below the accepted benchmark of 30pc of students achieving A to C GCSEs, including maths and English.

It was hoped that by bringing in sponsors, who might include significant companies or institutions like the local hospital, their expertise would help to create a new attitude of learning.

Mr Wainwright said there would be widespread consultation with parents and the wider community.

A county council spokesman said: “We are working closely with governors at Oriel to investigate all of the possibilities for the school's future, to ensure that the young people there receive the education they deserve. Discussions are currently at a very early stage.”

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