Largest primary academy trust outlines Norfolk expansion plans

Sir Steve Lancashire, chief executive of Reach2.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Sir Steve Lancashire, chief executive of Reach2.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The head of the largest primary school-only academy trust in England has outlined its plans to expand into Norfolk.

Sir Steve Lancashire, is chief executive of the Reach2 trust, and last month ministers announced it will set up three new primaries in the Sprowston area, to help meet demand for school places caused by new housing.

He talked to EDP education correspondent Martin George.

Why Norfolk?

Reach2 currently runs 56 primary school academies and free schools in England, including five in Waveney that joined it in 2015.

Chief executive Sir Steve Lancashire said: 'Wanting to work in Norfolk is natural step. We like working with different local authorities. We had a desire to build on what we are doing in Suffolk and work in Norfolk.

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'It's a bit about our distinctiveness as a trust. We are a primary-only trust and we like to think of ourselves as the experts in primary education and when we saw there was a need for new schools in the particular area we are talking about we very much wanted to build on what we call our East Anglian family, and start working with Norfolk.'

Not one school, but three

Reach2's strategy is not to open one school and build from there, but, in Sprowston's case, start with a group of three brand new schools.

Sir Steve said: 'Having clusters of schools really works. Last year when we opened a group of schools in Suffolk there were six of them. They can collaborate and are not isolated.

'One of the things we looked at as a trust was how some of the larger trusts had perhaps had difficulties; it was when schools were isolated, on their own, and did not have that collaborative network.

'What opening three new schools allows us to do is to build a little cluster of schools immediately, they will engage with the Suffolk schools and become part of that larger family.'

Will Reach2 open more schools in Norfolk? 'Whether there will be more will be a discussion with the schools commissioners, the local authority and other trusts,' he said.

Rapid expansion

In recent years, some academy trusts have come unstuck when they expanded rapidly, and were unable to give all their schools the support they needed. A number were stripped of some of their academies.

Reach2 has been given the job of setting up more than 20 brand-new primary schools across the country in the next three years. Is this too much, too quick?

Sir Steve said it has learned the lesson from other trusts, by not having isolated schools, having local teams that know their schools

very well, and investing 'very heavily' in training and professional development.

He added: 'At the moment, 80pc of our schools were under-performing schools. For us, this is a sensible growth strategy because it is about balancing that number of under-performing schools with new schools that will bring capacity to the trust, rather than drain it from the trust.'

The bucket list

Asked about what makes Reach2 distinctive, Sir Steve raised its 11 Before 11 programme – similar to a bucket list – of promises the trust makes to all its children about enriching experiences they will have before they leave school.

It was highlighted by Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw when he named Reach2 as one of seven high performing multi-academy trusts this month.

Sir Steve said: 'It's 11 great experiences that all children in Reach2 will have experienced before they are 11.

'Some of them are very high-profile or ambitious. One of them is 'I will perform in a concert in a national arena'. One of them is 'I will have my sports day in the Olympic stadium'.

'These are things which bring the whole [Reach2] family together.'

Some of the promises vary by location. In central London, one is that 'I will sleep a night under the stars by the sea'.

He added: 'The principle behind 11 Before 11 is that one of those experiences might just be that spark of something that says to that child 'I want to do that' or 'that's the kind of life I'm going to have for myself'.'

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