Academy plan passes latest test

A plan to open Norfolk's first academy school overcame its latest hurdle yesterday.At a scrutiny committee meeting at County Hall, county councillors narrowly voted against a proposal to wait and question further the £20m venture, sponsored by businessman Graham Dacre and the Bishop of Norwich.

A plan to open Norfolk's first academy school overcame its latest hurdle yesterday.

At a scrutiny committee meeting at County Hall, county councillors narrowly voted against a proposal to wait and question further the £20m venture, sponsored by businessman Graham Dacre and the Bishop of Norwich.

This means the original county cabinet's decision to post a notice to close Heartsease High School stands and the proposal goes to education secretary Ed Balls for final approval.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats had joined forces to demand yesterday's probe into the cabinet's decision because of concerns including the accuracy of a public consultation, the impact on surrounding schools and the council's lack of influence once the academy was taken out of local-authority control.

But a proposal by Labour councillor Peter Harwood to refer the consultation responses back to the cabinet for further analysis was lost by just one vote, with seven councillors voting for the proposal and eight against, after a heated debate.

During the meeting, Labour councillor Brian Morrey said the county council's formal consultation about the closure of the existing school - which saw 62pc of just 258 respondents back the scheme - “smelt of corruption” because many responses were from as far away as Thetford and those not directly affected by the proposals.

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But Rosalie Monbiot, cabinet member for children's services, said everybody's response counted because it was difficult to know who had family members at Heartsease or whether or not people would be moving to the area.

Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Morse said he was concerned that a “two-tier system” might develop with a “bright, gleaming and well-equipped” academy taking pupils from nearby schools.

But director of children's services Lisa Christensen said the academy's sponsors' intention was to collaborate with other schools.

Mrs Monbiot said there was the possibility of other acad-emies opening in Norwich.

“If Heartsease High School does not become an academy it may close as more and more parents might express a preference for their children to go to the other schools,” she said. She added if the £20m was not spent on the academy it would not be available to other Norfolk schools.

Conservative councillor Beverley Spratt thought the academy opportunity should be “grabbed with both hands”.

After the meeting Martine Lofty, whose daughter, Kirsty, 11, goes to Heartsease, expressed her “disgust” at the decision, saying it meant the local education authority would have no control and pupils would suffer disruption from building work.

“Heartsease High has improved so much. We have not been given a proper opportunity to voice our opinion - lots of people did not get the consultation forms to fill in,” she said.

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