Government letter gives hope to Hewett anti-academy campaigners

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

Campaigners fighting plans to turn a troubled Norwich high school into an academy have been given a glimmer of hope after the government appeared to say a final deal could not be completed before the election.

Protesters fear the Department for Education (DfE) has put the conversion of the Hewett School on a fast track to ensure it is complete by March 30, after which date pre-election rules prevent controversial decisions being made.

Their suspicions were fuelled by a letter from education minister Lord Nash, which said the DfE intended to use its legal powers to issue an academy order without first receiving a request from school governors - the first time it has taken this approach in Norfolk.

A government consultation with the trust that owns the Hewett's land finishes on Monday.

Protesters feared the government would then issue an academy order, and then sign a funding agreement, at which point the academy conversion cannot be reversed, before March 30.

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However, a new letter from government lawyers, seen by the Evening News, said 'there is no possibility of an academy opening prior to the election as there are a number of stages, including a consultation...that need to be completed prior to any decision on conversion'.

The DfE later confirmed there was not enough time to carry out this new consultation, which is required by law, and sign a funding agreement, before March 30.

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This could leave it to the next government to decide the Hewett's fate, even if an academy order is issued and consulted on by the end of the month.

However, Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs said: 'It begs the question why this process has taken the course it has. Why have they abandoned the normal process, and the minister has issued a decision to go for an academy at the start of the process, rather than at the end?

'It stretches credibility to believe they did this for no reason.'

The law does not specify who will be consulted, and over what timescale.

Legally, the consultation could be carried out by the school's interim governors, appointment by the government last week, or the Inspiration Trust, the proposed sponsor.

The news comes as campaigners prepare a protest march in Norwich city centre at noon today.

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