After months of speculation, it can finally be revealed that Free School Norwich will be based in the former Aviva building, Kings House, on Surrey Street.

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"“After this one is up and running, we will need this kind of school in other parts of Norfolk, like Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Thetford. I want us to go there next.”"

Tania Sidney-Roberts, Free School Norwich principal.

The school, which education secretary Michael Gove recently confirmed would open in September, could be the first of many in Norfolk, with those behind it planning to hunt for sites in Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Thetford.

The Norwich school is being set up by eight parents, teachers and business people from the Norwich area, including retired Drayton First School headteacher Pat Howe and local politician and teacher Antony Little.

But the idea came from Tania Sidney-Roberts, a Cringleford-based teacher who will be the school’s principal.

She said: “We are delighted to have found and secured such a wonderful building to house the new school. It will provide a first-class learning environment for hundreds of Norfolk children for years to come.

“The close proximity of the building to Norwich bus station makes it an ideal location for parents from all over Norfolk who work in the city of Norwich and who wish to send their children to the new school.”

The school, which will cater for four-11-year-olds, will open to reception and years one, two and three in September, before filling up the other years to reach its capacity of 168 pupils in the coming years. It will be open for 51 weeks a year.

Kings House is a Georgian former house, built in the early 1760s by Matthew Brettingham. It was used in recent years by Aviva, but has lately stood empty.

The government is paying for the lease of the building, which Mrs Sidney-Roberts said needed “hardly any work” inside to make it ready to use.

Floor plans and plans for the garden/playground have been drawn up.

Mrs Sidney-Roberts said plans were also advanced for the “extended school” element, which will see the school open out of hours, during holidays and on Saturdays to make it easier for working parents – with the rate likely to be as low as £3.50 per hour.

Free schools are funded directly by the government and have the freedom to set their own curriculum, opening times and holidays.

While, on the face of it, Free School Norwich is no more than a small primary school that is being set up, in reality it is the advance party of what could be an army of similar education institutions that promises to change the face of schooling.

Using an idea “borrowed” from Sweden, the government has carried out a remarkably speedy campaign of red tape removal and opposition clearance to pave the way for free schools.

The Norwich project has gone from conception to birth in little more than 12 months. And scores more schemes are on the Department for Education (DfE) starting grid.

Free School Norwich will be open for 51 weeks-a-year and will provide relatively cheap childcare in evenings, during holidays and on Saturdays, to enable working parents to balance breadwinning and care without going bust.

It sounds like a good idea, and the waiting list for places shows that plenty of parents agree. But, as is the case with academies, the pockets of popularity are balanced by fierce opposition.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is against free schools, with general secretary Christine Blower calling them “divisive and unaccountable”.

She said: “Free schools are not wanted or needed.

“It is high time that the government stopped playing with the educational future of this country based on nothing more than the fact that they can.”

But Mrs Sidney-Roberts said that the project was “not political”.

She said: “We’ve got people from all backgrounds involved in the school. We think it is providing a service that will help children and their parents. It’s a dream come true for any teacher and a chance to meet the needs of people in the local community.”

Rachel Wolf from the New Schools Network charity, said a “significant minority” of state schools were not good enough, and too many parents often had no choice about where to send their children – a problem that a growing network of free schools could help to solve.

A spokesman for the DfE said the NUT was “blindly opposing” free schools before any had opened.

She added: “Too often the poorest families are left with the worst schools while the rich can pay for good education via private schools or house prices. Free schools will give all parents, not just the rich, the option of a good local school with great teaching, strong discipline and small class sizes.”


What do you think about free schools? Write to Evening News letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE, email steve.downes@archant.co.uk or join the debate about free schools by following @stevedownes1973 on Twitter.

5 comments

  • As a parent I welcome the Norwich Free School. It is especially welcome to parents and children that live within the catchment area of Academy Schools 'sponsored' by a fanatical religious leader and the Rt Rev Graham James.. Similar schooling in Sweden has shown great advantages over UK State schools, in both academic results and the citizenship standards of pupils. Surely the reason the Government is investing in Free Schools is because they know State Schooling is failing so many children and parents?

    Report this comment

    Caz

    Friday, February 4, 2011

  • It’s nothing more than an attempt to dismantle state education by Tory idealists. So it works in Sweden let me remind you that this is not Sweden. Finally what a great place for a school, what a great place for young kids to grow up, heavily polluted in the middle of the city and where do they go for playtime? Perhaps a run around Marks & Spencer's or British Home Stores?

    Report this comment

    John L Norton

    Friday, February 4, 2011

  • The Government has indeed 'borrowed' from Sweden, but it has been selective in what is has borrowed. At a time of austerity, and with significant cuts to public services, I find it hard to understand how, or why, public money is being given to people who wish to set up free schools. And that the systems for accountability are unclear.

    Report this comment

    chrismoore

    Friday, February 4, 2011

  • The accountability issue is important. Schools aren't controlled by the local authority, but the authority is responsible for strategic planning and balancing the needs of the whole community. Surely that is important to ensure resources are used efficiently? This looks to be a new city centre school for people who work in the area, so an interestingly broad definition of 'local community'. It also means that most of the gratuitous comments about state schools from Rachel Wolf are not relevant and, given who she is and where her funding comes from, should be taken with a large dose of salt.

    Report this comment

    Tressell's broadbrush

    Friday, February 4, 2011

  • This school is going to cause absolute Chaos in Surrey Street, This part of the road is already both narrow & busy with 2 way buses, parked cars & lots of pedestrians, so without a regular school drop off & collection Police presence, then Surrey Street will come to a stand still.

    Report this comment

    el84

    Friday, February 4, 2011

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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