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Free school principal’s plan for new Norwich high school

PUBLISHED: 06:30 19 February 2013

Principal Tania Sidney-Roberts at her desk at the Free School Norwich; Photo: Bill Smith

Principal Tania Sidney-Roberts at her desk at the Free School Norwich; Photo: Bill Smith

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The principal behind one of the country’s first free school is hoping to open a new secondary school in the centre of Norwich.

The Free School Norwich (High School) would aim to be the “other half of the bridge” that Tania Sidney-Roberts began to build with her primary school on Surrey Street.

Her proposal, for a 360-pupil, 11 to 16-year-old school, has already made it through the first stage of the application process with the department for education now calling Mrs Sidney-Roberts in for an interview next month.

The principal said she put the application together over Christmas following huge demand from parents of pupils at The Free School Norwich primary school and those of children who missed out on securing a place there.

She said: “I’m proud of my proposal. I think it will be an excellent school. It’s the other half of the bridge we already have here.”

Mrs Sidney-Roberts said, with a rapidly increasing number of primary school aged children at the moment, there was set to be an increase in demand for secondary school places in Norwich in the next few years too. “It’s there to create more places for the bubble of children coming through the primary school system,” she said.

The school will follow the same model as the existing Surrey Street school which was one of the country’s very first free schools when it opened in September 2011.

The Free School Norwich (High School) will be based in the centre of Norwich – with four potential buildings suitable for “recycling” already identified – and, if approved, would open in September 2014.

It will have no catchment area and will be aimed at children of all backgrounds across Norfolk, with a particular focus on working parents. Opening 51 weeks a year from 8.15am to 5.45pm, it will offer breakfast, after school and holiday provision as well as a basic school day which runs from 8.45am until 4.45pm.

School terms will be split evenly across the year, lasting about six weeks each, with two-week holidays throughout the year and a four week summer holiday.

Mrs Sidney-Roberts added: “The message coming through is loud and clear that parents still need an extended school provision until their children are 13 or 14. That’s still a major factor preventing a lot of parents who would like to be from going out to work.

“Parents are looking for the continuation of the ethos, aims, and vision of the primary school and, particularly, a continuation of the strong focus we have on the individual child here and supporting individual needs.”

The primary school also offers tailored support for children with dyslexia and teaches a dyslexia-friendly curriculum to all pupils. The principal said many parents were looking for a high school with the same approach.

Mrs Sidney-Roberts, who insisted the school would not be a threat to other secondaries in Norwich, has had to submit a detailed plan for the school including draft timetables, teaching plans and draft curricula for each year group.

At Key Stage 4 – GCSE level – the high school plans to offer maths, English, science, design and technology, IT, PE, and personal, social, and health education as core subjects as well as options in music, drama, a modern foreign language – likely to be Spanish – geography, history and art.

Years seven and eight would be taught by class teachers using the “thematic approach” taught at the existing free school, although specialists would teach PE, music, languages and science. In year nine, students would begin preparing for GCSE study while also being encouraged to complete the Duke of Edinburgh bronze award.

The principal, who has already formed a shadow board of governors including existing Free School Norwich governors, city headteachers and secondary school teachers, added: “We now have to go through to the listening-to-parents stage. Once we have had the interview, we will go out to consultation and take on board what particular preferences the parents have. I firmly believe the whole point of free schools is they meet the needs and preferences of parents out there.”

The Free School Norwich (Primary School) is “hugely over-subscribed” for its September 2013 intake and there are “long waiting lists” for every year group.

Mrs Sidney-Roberts, who is already in the process of opening a free school in Leeds, said it was “more than likely” she would start looking to open further primary schools in the centre of Norwich once the high school – if approved – was up and running.

To find out more or to register an interest in The Free School Norwich (High School), go to


  • Where is the demand for all these so-called Free Schools suddenly coming from? A soon to be very costly exercise in duplicating provision.

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    Police Commissioner ???

    Tuesday, February 19, 2013

  • It is a concern that this Principal is already contemplating opening other schools in other cities. Presumably all with puppet heads. Will she end up heading a private psuedo local authority?

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    George Ezekial

    Tuesday, February 19, 2013

  • I have nothing against the idea of another secondary in principle - Norwich is not well-served by popular, high achieving comprehensives - but the suggestion that year 7 and 8 will be taught for most subjects by a single class teacher is a big mistake. It works ok at primary level, but I would want my children taught history (for example) by a history graduate specialist at secondary age, because they will be best placed to stretch and challenge them. Anyone can read up a few pages ahead in any text book, but that is not a model of the best provision, and it is a bit patronising to think that year 7 and 8 students are not worthy of more specialised teaching. Of course, providing subject specialists costs more money and in a small school this is not always viable, hence her plan, but educationally it is soft and unambitious and will not give the pupils the best foundation in those subject areas for future exam courses: no teacher can be strong in all of them and even if a few will be taught separately, that still leaves a lot for one person to deliver. One wonders if there are good reasons why primary school heads tend not to try to run secondary schools - and vice versa. Plus this 'class teacher' set up will continue the feel of being at a primary school - great in terms of a caring community you might think, but not so good in helping pupils grow up and become more independent and responsible.

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    a fine city

    Tuesday, February 19, 2013

  • I say, this looks like a doddle. How does one get in on the game? It's no good hanging about if this woman is starting a franchise. I mean is it some sort of "walkthrough" application process and, "Bingo", a cheque from government for many millions. Yes, I can see oneself as the CEO of a string of free schools up and down the country. With the right marketing they will out-compete existing local authority provision in no time. All one needs to do is put the word out that there's a waiting list and places are heavily over-subscribed. The middle classes will get signing up in their droves for fear their brats are missing out. It's like a quasi-privatisation revolution in education provision by stealth. By the time anyone notices what's going on, all tradition state education will be gone and it will be too late to do anything about it. LOL

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    Mr Cameron Isaliar

    Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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