Norfolk’s school improvement service to become not-for-profit

Four years after Ofsted criticised school standards in Norfolk, the county's school improvement programme could be used to help schools in other counties

CREDIT: This story was first seen in TES

A county council’s school improvement service will be hived off into a separate not-for-profit company, and could be used by the government to support education across county borders, TES reports.

Norfolk County Council believes its decision to turn the Norfolk Better to Best programme into a community interest company, funded entirely by membership fees from schools that join it, could make it the first of its kind in the country.

The scheme, which was launched in 2013 with £1.5m of council funding for four years, will drop its Norfolk branding and separate from the council when it becomes the Viscount Nelson Education Network (VNET) on April 1.

Denise Walker, who has led the programme since its inception and will become the new company’s chief executive, told TES that she had held talks with Tim Coulson, regional schools commissioner (RSC) for East of England and north-east London, about helping him to deliver the school improvement role he is increasingly responsible for.

“The RSC was really interested in us working with some schools over the Cambridgeshire and Suffolk borders,” she added.

It marks a reversal from where Norfolk found itself in 2013, when its underperforming education system was in the government’s crosshairs, and Ofsted’s then-chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw asked: “Why is education so dire in much of Norfolk?”

The programme initially aimed to help 120 schools with an Ofsted “requires improvement” grade to become “good”, but it was later opened up to all schools, and now has 240 on its books – including schools that have broken away from the council to become academies.

Since the launch of the scheme, the proportion of the county’s schools judged “good” or “outstanding” has risen from 63 per cent to 88 per cent – just below the national average.

Ms Walker described her role as a “conductor of an orchestra”, commissioning support tailored to an individual school’s needs. VNET will only have one other employee, a chief operating officer.

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Ms Walker said VNET could become a safety net for troubled schools which have been dubbed “untouchable” because academy trusts are too risk-averse to take responsibility for them.

“We talk about that in the local authority quite a bit. The time it takes to work through can leave [the school] in the lurch. There’s a gap there that we could help to fill,” she added.

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