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Eastern Learning Alliance Trust assigned to special school planned to come to Downham Market in 2026

A special school that is due to come to West Norfolk has moved a step further as a trust has been selected.

The school for Downham is part of Norfolk County Council’s multi-million-pound local first inclusion programme, which will create 100 places for children aged between five and 18 with communication and interaction needs.

The Department for Education has appointed the Eastern Learning Alliance to lead the school - which is due to open in September 2026.

The special school planned to come to Downham has had a trust assigned to it. Picture: Stock image
The special school planned to come to Downham has had a trust assigned to it. Picture: Stock image

Cllr Penny Carpenter, cabinet member for children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said: “This announcement is a significant step toward expanding specialist education provision in Norfolk.

“We want to enable all children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to get a consistently high-quality education with the right support for their needs in their local area first.

“Unity Schools Partnership and Eastern Learning Alliance have exceptional track records in delivering excellent education and support for children with SEND. Unity Schools Partnership currently oversees five special schools, with three of them achieving a "good” rating from Ofsted, while the other two schools are new provisions and have not yet been rated.

“I have every confidence that these trusts will achieve the same high standards for the children and young people of Downham.”

Local first inclusion is bringing more than £100m of new investment by the Department for Education (DfE) and Norfolk County Council.

Lucy Scott, CEO of the Eastern Learning Alliance which will be operating the school, said: “We look forward to working with the DfE and Norfolk County Council on this important project, which comes in response to the growing need for more specialist places within our education system.

“The Eastern Learning Alliance have an excellent track record in ensuring exceptional provision for autistic students, led by our work at The Cavendish School (TCS) in Cambridgeshire.

“The vision for that school has always been to ensure excellent academic and pastoral provision for autistic students, many of whom have experienced significant educational disruption prior to joining the school. We look forward to building on the platform provided by TCS as we work to open a similar provision for young people in Norfolk.”

The county council said it wants children and young people with SEND to be able to attend schools that can successfully meet their needs and are as close to homes as possible.

Children’s Education Health Care Plan coordinators will work with them and their parents to understand whether either of these two new special schools will be suitable for their child’s needs and which school they would like to have named for their child.

Remaining in mainstream education will also be explored.

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