Council postpones decision on legal challenge to Hewett School academy conversion

Hewett School sign and entrance on Hall Road. Picture: Denise Bradley

Hewett School sign and entrance on Hall Road. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

Norfolk County Council has postponed a decision about whether to launch a High Court challenge against government plans to turn the Hewett School into an academy.

The Children's Service Committee this afternoon decided to reserve its position on launching a legal action, while it waits to see whether there will be a 'full and effective' consultation with the local community.

The future of the school has been at the centre of heated debate since it was plunged into special measures following a damning Ofsted report in November.

On March 2, education minister Lord Nash said he wanted the school to become an academy sponsored by the Inspiration Trust, and rejected the county council's choice of members for an interim executive board to replace its governors.

Council leaders oppose academy conversion, and instead want the school to form part of a 'learning village' on the site.

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Councillors last week raised concerns the government was trying to rush academy conversion through ahead of the general election in May, and called an extraordinary meeting of the Children's Services Committee to decide this afternoon whether to apply for a judicial review of the government's plans.

Councillors voted to keep a discussion of its legal advice about the likely success of any action secret, to avoid tipping opponents off about its strategy should it go ahead.

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Answering questions ahead of the private session, Gordon Boyd, assistant director of children's services, told councillors the education secretary would decide what happened to the school's land when it became an academy, and the school's deficit would not be passed onto its new sponsor, but would be shouldered by the remaining community schools.

He also confirmed that council officers had considered temporarily closing the Hewett, which has hundreds of unfilled places, and transferring its existing pupils to other schools around the city.

However, it was concluded that busing large numbers of students from Lakenham around the city would be too disruptive.

It also emerged that the new interim executive board, which replaced the Hewett's governors this month, has started a new restructuring of the school's staff.

The committee's decision to reserve the council's position on any legal action was taken unanimously.

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