City in line for ‘carbon copy’ of praised school

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THE founder of one of the country’s first free schools which stays open 51 weeks of the year is to visit Leeds tomorrow to outline plans to create a “carbon copy” in the city.

The Free School Norwich, hailed by Government as a blueprint for groups wanting to set up their own schools from scratch, will help create a new primary school in Leeds next September.

The Norfolk school, which was opened by Prime Minister David Cameron last year, is eight times oversubscribed.

Its founder and headteacher, Tania Sidney-Roberts, told the Yorkshire Post that the school’s success was down to meeting the demands of working parents.

The Free School Norwich offers childcare for its pupils for 51 weeks of the year and has a six-term year, with fortnight-long half-terms and a four-week summer holiday following requests from prospective parents.

Mrs Sidney-Roberts said: “I had been a teacher in Norwich and London. I wanted to open the free school because I believed it gave us the flexibility to be able to provide the kind of schools that parents want.

“We said to parents if you had a blank canvas what would the school year be and parents found the summer holiday was too long and the week-long half term did not give children the chance to recover and be ready for the next long term.”

She told the Yorkshire Post that the aim now was to repeat the success of the launch of the Free School Norwich in Leeds with a new school which would be a “carbon copy” of the original.

The Free School Leeds was one of seven proposals in Yorkshire given initial approval to open in 2013, although it has not yet got a confirmed site. It plans to recruit pupils from across the city and is aiming to open with 96 children in four classes of 24 in reception and years one, two and three.

The Free School Norwich has a specialist dyslexia unit and the school in Leeds plans to be dyslexia-friendly.

The Leeds school was the brainchild of Pat Payne, from the Leeds and Bradford Dyslexia Association. She joined forces with the Free School Norwich around 18 months ago after hearing Mrs Sidney-Roberts talking about her school at a conference

Mrs Sidney-Roberts said: “Pat came to speak to me after my speech and said that I had described everything that she had wanted to create for her school.”

The two women will be speaking tomorrow at an open day at 2pm at Weetwood Hall Conference Centre in Weetwood, Leeds.

Mrs Payne said: “I would urge parents to come along. It will give us the chance to answer any questions they have. We will not be a special needs school but we are dyslexia-friendly. Our approach to teaching will work for all pupils.”

Mrs Sidney-Roberts said her own research suggested dyslexia was more common than most people believe.

The Free School Norwich has received national attention because its childcare arm, known as the Squirrels, remains open for 51 weeks of the year from 8.15am until 5.45pm. Parents are charged £3 per hour.

Mrs Sidney-Roberts said giving parents affordable childcare had helped some pupils to go on overseas holidays for the first time.