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Wells schools plan in doubt

PUBLISHED: 11:20 16 September 2008 | UPDATED: 14:42 07 July 2010

A groundbreaking plan to create a "tots to teens" school for five-to-16-year-olds in a Norfolk town could be jeopardised - because the results of one of the schools are improving.

A groundbreaking plan to create a “tots to teens” school for five-to-16-year-olds in a Norfolk town could be jeopardised - because the results of one of the schools are improving.

Talks are under way to merge Norfolk's smallest high school, Alderman Peel at Wells, with the neighbouring Wells Primary to create the county's first all-through school.

Until last year, Alderman Peel's below-par GCSE results put it among high schools in the county that qualified to become an academy - a status that comes with at least £20m of government cash to fund a new school.

This year results took a giant leap forward, taking the school well above the government's floor target of 30pc or more students gaining five or more A*-C GCSEs including English and maths, jumping from 23.4pc to 42.5pc.

The move, which is good news for the school and pupils, puts academy hopes in the balance because the government wants to give money first to schools with lower results as it continues its bid to get every institution above the 30pc mark.

Hope lies in the fact that there is a strand of the academies policy that enables local authorities to make proposals to support small rural high schools with a history of below-target GCSE achievement - with priority given to projects including possible all-age provision.

Alderman Peel has been repeatedly below the floor target but the speed and scale of its improvement leaves school leaders and education officers to look into other ways to fund the new school if the academy possibility is ruled out.

Despite the uncertainty, the headteachers of the two schools were last night keen to see the project move forward.

Jon Platten, head of Alderman Peel, said: “We are happy with the idea from the point of view of the benefits to learning and benefits to students.”

Carol Jennings, head of Wells Primary, which has about 170 pupils, said: “An all-through school with a new building for the primary school would be an excellent idea. We need a new building because we are in a school built in 1929, which is not fit for purpose. The all-through school would improve the quality of education for the pupils. We do an awful lot of work together anyway. We could share facilities, research and share some staff.”

Discussions are understood to be at an early stage, but there is some urgency because pupil numbers are predicted to fall in the next few years.

If projections are correct, Alderman Peel could fall from 300 to about 230 pupils in the next five years.

The decrease could threaten its viability, but Norfolk County Council is committed to keeping schools in the town and is looking for ways to make them more efficient.

If Alderman Peel were to close, which is not being considered, hundreds of youngsters would face a 12-mile trip to Fakenham to attend the nearest high school.

Kate Gooding, the council's children's services spokesman, said: “Discussions around creating an all-through school in Wells are still in their very early stages. The governing body of the high school is exploring the idea and the governing bodies of the primary schools are aware of the option. However, it has not yet been decided whether a formal proposal will be made.”

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