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Diocese of East Anglia plans to open eight new Catholic free schools

Students Notre Dame High School in Norwich (Photo: Diocese of East Anglia)

The Diocese of East Anglia will be one of the first dioceses to take advantage of the Government’s decision to remove the 50 per cent admissions cap on free schools.

In a statement released today, the diocese announced that up to eight new primary and secondary schools are in the pipeline to counter the shortage of school spaces for Catholic pupils in East Anglia.

The Government announced the proposal in September, which was followed by a consultation which ended yesterday. If the admissions cap is lifted following the consultation, the diocese will be at liberty to act straight away and open their proposed schools.

The areas of East Anglia where the new schools are being proposed are parts of the diocese where there is a great need due to demographic changes that have taken place in the region in the past decade.

In Cambridgeshire, the diocese plans to set up a primary school in the West Cambourne area and Cherry Hinton village, which is on the outskirts of Cambridge. The diocese also hopes to establish a new Catholic primary school in Peterborough.

Another primary school is envisaged in the market town of Thetford, while two primary schools and a sixth form have been proposed for Norwich.

The Sacred Heart Convent School in Swaffham is also considering plans for a new free school.

Director of the Catholic Education Service, Paul Barber, said: “This is fantastic news from the Diocese of East Anglia and we warmly welcome their announcement. Up and down the country we are seeing pockets of high demand for Catholic education and if the cap is lifted we will be able to answer that call. Catholic schools are the most ethnically diverse in the country and consistently outperform the national average when it comes to KS2 and KS4 results. We are excited at this opportunity to give more children an outstanding Catholic education.”

Assistant director for the Schools Commission for the Diocese of East Anglia, Helen Bates, said the diocese is “really looking forward to opening new schools which are desperately needed to meet the demand we already have here in East Anglia.”

“For the Catholic Church, the cap has meant it has been unable to open any new Catholic schools in case it results in Catholic children being turned away from a Catholic school. In East Anglia we have some of the most severe shortages of places, which is why we want to bid for so many new schools,” she added.

Brian Conway, chief executive officer of the St John the Baptist Catholic Multi-Academy Trust, which currently covers six primaries and a high school in Norfolk and north Suffolk, said “the possibility of new Catholic schools is hugely exciting”.

“Catholic schools have a long history of providing a successful education to widely diverse pupil populations. For example, our current primary school in Norwich, St Francis of Assisi, has more than 40% of its pupils whose first language is not English,” he said.

“We also have a real need for Catholic primary school places in north Norwich and this is growing as large housing developments in places like Sprowston and Rackheath are planned. A school in north Norwich could serve a Catholic need from this housing as well as an existing need across north Norfolk where there are no Catholic schools.”