Academy plans set to move forward

Councillors are being urged to vote to close a Norfolk school and replace it with the county's first academy, despite opposition from parents, teachers and local authorities.

Councillors are being urged to vote to close a Norfolk school and replace it with the county's first academy, despite opposition from parents, teachers and local authorities.

A report from Norfolk County Council recommends cabinet members agree to close Heartsease High in Norwich from the end of August , provided that the government has by then approved the establishment of the £20m Open Academy.

That now appears to be a formality, despite seven formal objections to the plans from bodies including Norwich City Council, school governors and teaching unions.

Responses in support of the proposals were received from two parents and from the Norwich Diocesan Board of Education.


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The academy is being sponsored by millionaire Christian businessman Graham Dacre and the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, who between them will be investing £2m with an estimated £20m to come from the government.

The controversial plans have increased tension between local authorities, already at loggerheads over Norwich's bid for unitary status. In its official response to the county's closure plans, City Hall said it did not believe an academy was the “appropriate option”.

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It cited concerns including a lack of democratic accountability, possible adverse impact on neighbouring schools and the “inordinate amount of control” that would be given to sponsors.

Governors at Heartsease High claimed the school's current performance had been presented in an overly negative way, that a public consultation had been biased and that academies nationally had had limited impact on educational standards.

Governors of Sprowston High argued an academy could lead to falling pupil numbers at their school and a consequential loss in funding. Blyth-Jex governors said disproportionate investment in one school could destabilise the delivery of secondary education in north-east Norwich.

Sprowston Parish Council also expressed concerns about the impact on other schools in the area and said the academy would not be democratically run.

Public service union Unison said that because the academy would be taken outside the responsibility of the local authority, it would be harder to ensure adequate standards were being maintained. It also expressed concern it would become a stand-alone employer with the power to negotiate all staff pay and conditions.

A petition signed by five members of the National Union of Teachers at Heartsease Primary outlined similar concerns, while 550 people signed petitions claiming they would not send their children to an academy sponsored by Mr Dacre “who expresses unorthodox religious views”.

Objections to the plan are likely to make little difference, however. Government guidance to local authorities states that where school closure proposals are linked to the establishment of academies, there should be a “general presumption in favour of approval”.

The council's cabinet is due to vote on the issue on Monday .

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