Hellesdon High School eyes academy status

A high school has taken a step towards more independence after beginning a consultation on whether it should become an academy.

Governors at Hellesdon High School are seeking the views of staff, students, parents, and the community after the coalition government changed the criteria for schools wishing to become academies.

As from last month, the government expanded the conversion programme to all schools that were 'performing well' – with stable or improving results above or moving towards the national average – and judged by Ofsted to have the capacity to improve.

The consultation period at the Middleton's Lane school will run until June 10, after which the board of governors will decide on whether to go down the academy route to be directly funded by the government rather than Norfolk County Council.

If it is decided to go ahead with the plans, the school is not likely to become an academy until early 2012 and would retain its name and uniform.Headteacher Gerard Batty said: 'Like many schools which have gone down that route, we are exploring what it would mean for this school, what benefits it would have and what disadvantages.

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'We are very much at the consultation stage. We really want to make sure that we have spoken to everyone concerned, we will look at what people think and then the governors will make a decision.'

Hellesdon High School, which specialises in technology, science and maths, saw its best examination results last summer with 60 per cent of its students achieving five or more GCSEs at grade A*-C, including English and maths.

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An Ofsted inspector also said the school, which was rated 'satisfactory' in its last inspection in 2009, had made 'good progress in making improvements' when they visited earlier this year.

If the school goes for academy status, it will be free from local authority and national government control, will be able to set its own pay and conditions for staff, will have more freedom in what is taught and will have the ability to change the length of terms and school days.

It will also receive a grant which is likely to be in the region of �420,000 in the first academic year.

Mr Batty said: 'It will give us a greater degree of autonomy over what we teach and when we teach it. The money is something but in the current circumstances who knows how long that grant would last.

'There are other aspects as well - the freedom to do things that we might not otherwise be able to do. But this is truly a consultation at the moment. We're keeping a close eye on the local and national situation and we're in no rush.'

So far in Norwich, three high schools - Heartsease, Earlham and Costessey - have converted to 'mark one' academies whereby, under the old scheme, they went into partnership with a business or organisation, effectively closed down and were renamed and given a new look and ethos.

Mr Batty has stressed that if Hellesdon High School was to gain academy status, 'very little' would change.

'It's a totally different set of circumstances,' he said. 'There would be no change - the uniform wouldn't change, the school's aims wouldn't change, the name wouldn't change. What would change is that it would give us the chance to be more autonomous.'

A meeting was held on May 19 at the school in which the governors held a question and answer session.

Parents are being invited to submit their comments online or by writing in with their views.

The consultation has been met with mixed views.

Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North, said: 'This could be a very good opportunity. Being an academy can give real power back to a school to serve pupils and parents and the community could benefit.

'I would encourage local parents and students to look very seriously at it and to respond to the school's consultation.'

Shelagh Gurney, county councillor for Hellesdon who also has a son at the school, said she would be interested to hear parents' views on the issue.

Mike Smith, county secretary for the National Union of Teachers, said they were due to meet teachers at the school later this week.

He said: 'Our concerns are that most schools which are considering going down the academy route are doing it on a financial basis.

'Once they become academies, they can't come back. Our advice for union members will be to oppose any move to become an academy.'

Fred Corbett, Assistant Director, Strategy & Commissioning, Early Years, Schools and Colleges (Children's Services) said: 'The future direction of the school is a matter for its governing body and not the county council, but as a stakeholder we will contribute to the consultation.

'The important thing is that any decisions made about the school's future status are based on the fullest information possible and that they're in the very best interests of our young people - now and in the future.'

The governing body will meet on Tuesday, June 21 to decide whether or not to proceed with an application for academy status. Responses must be submitted no later than 4pm on Friday, June 10 when the consultation period closes.

Parents can send their comments by letter to Mrs S Norris, Clerk to the Governors, Hellesdon High School, 187 Middleton's Lane, Hellesdon, Norwich NR6 5SB, or email to head@hellesdonhigh.norfolk.sch.uk.

Is your child's school bidding for academy status? Contact Kate Scotter on 01603 772326 or email kate.scotter@archant.co.uk

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