Thetford Free School judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted

Left to right: Nico Dobben (former headteacher), Elizabeth Truss MP, Christopher Tomlinson (deputy h

Left to right: Nico Dobben (former headteacher), Elizabeth Truss MP, Christopher Tomlinson (deputy headteacher), Christine Oakes (chair of governors) - Credit: Archant

A free school designed to help children that do not fit into mainstream education has been judged “inadequate” by Ofsted inspectors.

The report for what was originally called the Thetford Alternative Provision Free School, but recently changed its name to the Pinetree School, is not due to be published until September.

The school opened in September 2013 with 20 pupils.

Tim Coulson, who has held academies and free schools to account since becoming regional schools commissioner in July 2014, said: “Very soon after I started it was clearly not going well, and it’s just been judged ‘inadequate’, which is completely correct. I entirely agree with that judgement.

“Soon after I started it was clearly of great concern, so by Christmas we said to the trust you are not running it properly.”


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It is the only school in Norfolk that Dr Coulson has removed from its original sponsor, and transferred to another organisation, the recently-created Engage Trust, which sponsors academies and free schools for some of the most vulnerable and challenging young people.

The school would not comment until the Ofsted report was published.

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Elizabeth Truss, MP for South West Norfolk and an enthusiastic supporter for free schools, unveiled a plaque at the official opening ceremony of the school in June 2014.

At the time, she said: “I think it’s absolutely the right aim that all our children get the support and help they need to fulfil their potential, whatever that potential is”, and added “you have blazed a trail that others will want to follow and know about.”

The Thetford school becomes the second free school in the region to be branded “inadequate” by the inspectors, following IES Breckland in Brandon, which was put into special measures in March 2014.

It was founded by former Thetford Academy teacher, Nico Dobben. Sue Kirrage was appointed as headteacher earlier this year following Mr Dobben’s departure due to ill health.

According to the latest nation-wide Ofsted data, a higher proportion of free schools are rated “inadequate” than the national average, but a higher proportion have also received the top “outstanding” judgement.

Do you have an education story? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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