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Growing Norfolk academy trust marks 11 schools in 18 months

PUBLISHED: 08:29 08 December 2017 | UPDATED: 08:38 08 December 2017

Jonathan Taylor. Picture: Nick Dunmur

Jonathan Taylor. Picture: Nick Dunmur

© Nick Dunmur 2012

An academy trust founded at one of the county’s most prestigious schools now has 11 schools on its books after 18 months.

Wymondham College Wymondham College

The Sapientia Education Trust (SET) was set up at Wymondham College last March, and, with paperwork still being finished on some, now has eight primary and infants and three secondaries.

Just days ago, it took on Stradbroke High School, in Eye, and confirmed that Framingham Earl High School, just outside Norwich, was likely to officially join next spring.

But Jonathan Taylor, chief executive, said they were conscious of growing too big - and that they handpicked schools of various sizes, backgrounds and Ofsted ratings.

“We are trying to be measured in the growth so it’s about working with schools that we feel either need the support or will add something extra to the trust,” he said.

“We are mindful of not growing too large too quickly. We are not aiming to grow particularly large, and in terms of pupil numbers we’re probably looking at 4,000 in the group this time next year.”

With roughly 3,000 pupils currently, it means more growth on the horizon - and while Mr Taylor confirmed they were in discussion with other schools, he said it was too early to disclose which ones.

Framingham Earl High School, photo from Google Street View Framingham Earl High School, photo from Google Street View

He said SET was keen to “sustain small village schools”, which, with squeezed budgets, are often under pressure. Burston Primary School, a SET school, had 40 pupils on its roll as of May.

MORE: How did Norfolk schools fare in the Times’ league table?

He said the trio of secondaries had a “natural affinity”, sharing a focus on extra-curricular activities.

“Stradbroke approached us as a standalone academy,” he said. “They are a really successful school but quite a small one, and they often found their teaching staff were working in relative isolation during significant exam reform.”

He said they were working to create transport links between Stradbroke - which has fewer than 300 pupils - an Wymondham College, so A-level students could attend its sixth form.

“The three will provide a terrific foundation for the trust,” he said.

Other schools under the trust are Seething and Mundham, Rocklands, Surlingham, Old Buckenham, Tivetshall and Great Hockham Primary Schools and Ghost Hill Infant School in Taverham.

Free school plans moving forward

A brand new free school for primary pupils run by the trust could open in 2020.

In April, SET was given the green light to build a new primary for 450 pupils, and 30 boarders, as part of a wave of 111 new free schools.

It will be called the Sapientia Primary Prep School and will be the first state-funded primary boarding school in the east of England.

A decision on where the multi-million pound school will be built is expected in the coming weeks - but Mr Taylor said it is likely to be near the college, although not necessarily on its land.

It could open in September 2020, but, he said, if things move quicker than expected, it could be brought forward.

He said the team was “really excited” about the project, and the “significant investment” the government was making in the Wymondham area.

There are roughly 440 free schools around the country, and at least 350 more on their way.

MORE: New 450-place primary prep school in Norfolk among 111 new free schools approved by government

Founder school not forgotten

Amid a busy time at the trust, Mr Taylor was quick to reassure parents that its founder school, Wymondham College, would not be neglected.

In September, Dan Browning was welcomed as the head of school, a role created as Mr Taylor’s focus widens.

It saw Mr Browning relocate from Cyprus, where he was an executive headteacher at two ministry of defence schools.

He said he had enjoyed his first term at the school, which was his first choice of employer when his family decided to move to Norfolk.

Among his priorities, he said, was making sure people were aware of how the college works. Though it is state-funded, its boarding facilities often lead people to believe it is independent.

“It comes up over and over again,” he said. “We are very proud of our results and to be a state boarding school, but we find parents often think we are an independent school.”

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