Government defies campaign and forces Hewett School in Norwich to become an academy

The Hewett School. Picture: Denise Bradley

The Hewett School. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

The Government this morning defied a high-profile local campaign and gave the order for The Hewett School in Norwich to become an academy.

The controversial decision by education secretary Nicky Morgan will spark fury in Lakenham and beyond, where a We're Backing Hewett campaign has pushed for a local solution to the school's problem.

But this is unlikely to be the end of the battle, for Norfolk County Council could now launch a judicial review against the order.

The academy order is the beginning of a process, and triggers local consultation. The move to academisation only becomes final when a funding agreement is signed, but opponents of the move will believe that to be a fait accompli.

The secondary school on Cecil Road was put into special measures by Ofsted in November - a move that often triggers a compulsory switch to academy status.

But the council instead wanted it to become a 'learning village', including enhanced early years activity, an extended adult education presence, an autism free school and a family and community support centre.

However, the Government rejected the authority's choice of interim governors for the school, and education minister Lord Nash wrote to the existing governors, saying: 'The Secretary of State is minded to use her powers and make an Academy Order... with a view to the school becoming an academy within Sir Theodore Agnew's Inspiration Trust.'

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A Department for Education spokesman today said: 'Our sole priority is making sure every local child has the chance to get an excellent education and the best start in life. Ofsted's recent report on the Hewett School could not be clearer that immediate change is needed in order for that to happen.

'As we have seen time and again, becoming an academy with the support of a strong sponsor is the quickest and most effective way to bring about rapid and sustained improvement.

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'That is why we have issued the Academy Order. It gives staff and parents the chance to have their say, provides them with much-needed clarity, and helps to secure the long-term future of the school'

However, the move has angered Norwich South MP Simon Wright, who has hit out at the Department for Education and is calling on all parents to make their thoughts and comments clear.

Mr Wright said: 'The strength of commitment to the Hewett School from parents and the wider community is immense. Hundreds of people have signed petitions, written letters and gathered at meetings to voice their support for the school.

'I am angry that the future of the school is being driven by a Whitehall agenda, and specifically by an unelected former venture capitalist from the House of Lords who knows little about Norwich.

'These decisions should be driven by our democratically accountable Local Education Authority.

'However, I would urge all parents to continue to make their concerns known. There will inevitably be opportunities for parents to take part in meetings with the Interim Executive Board to ask questions and to put forward concerns about the proposal. I strongly encourage parents to take part in this process.

'Until a funding agreement has been signed, the future of the school is not final.'

The Inspiration Trust's existing schools in the city include the Jane Austen College, Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form, and Norwich Primary Academy.

On March 8, We're Backing Hewett held a public meeting at St Alban's Church Hall in Grove Walk, at which opponents to forced academisation backed the learning village concept and urged the Government to allow a local solution to occur.

Stephen Little, a parent and member of the We're Backing Hewett campaign, said they would be looking to challenge the Department for Education's decision-making process and added: 'It's a shameful decision and shows a complete disregard for people's views.'

Fellow parent Joanna Smith, who lives in the north of the city, said she specifically chose the school for her son and daughter, who are both in the sixth form, for the emphasis it places on developing students into well-rounded individuals and she would not want to see this sacrificed at the expense of focusing on examination results.

She said: 'I'm very upset that my daughter, who still has another year, could have to go to an Inspiration Trust school next term. They don't have a great reputation in the county and I would prefer my children to go to a local authority-run school.

'I looked at other schools and the Hewett seemed to be the most nurturing and caring school.'

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