Is this a model for school improvement that might just work and might just spread to other parts of England?
Four years after Ofsted criticised school standards in Norfolk, the county’s school improvement programme could be used to help schools in other counties.
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.
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 £1.5 million 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 1 April.
The new Viscount Nelson Education Network will ‘own’ Better to Best and will continue its work – to support schools to make their own improvements – but will be entirely independent from the Council. As a Community Interest Company (CIC), will be funded solely by the membership fees paid by participating schools, and the services it offers will be shaped by the head teachers themselves.
This initiative, originally named Norfolk to Good and Great, was given £1.5m of funding over four years by Norfolk County Council with the aim of helping 120 schools. Now, it has 240 schools on its books (some of which are academies), which pay an annual membership fee according to the number of pupils on roll and their choice of level of the three-tier service.
When the schools in NB2B were asked if they wanted the service to continue when funding ceased, the feedback from head teachers was overwhelmingly positive, leading to the decision to set up the CIC.
Norfolk County Council’s Assistant Director for Education Chris Snudden said the move would not only hand over the reins to schools, but also free NB2B up to potentially expand into neighbouring counties.
Chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Children’s Services Committee Roger Smith said:
“There has been an enormous amount of hard work to get to this point and I know NB2B will continue to offer superb support to schools across Norfolk. This is a pioneering example of how schools can not only help themselves, but help each other to push up standards. There’s a real sense of being in a club when you are both being challenged and supported, and the enthusiasm of the schools involved will carry it forward successfully.”