Hewett School: Inspiration Trust “would be opposed to the sell-off of any land”

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

The academy chain named as the preferred sponsor of a city high school has hit back at claims some of its land could be sold off.

The future of the Hewett School has been at the centre of growing controversy since it was put into special measures last November after Ofsted inspectors rated it 'inadequate'.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan this week signed an academy order for the school, formally signalling its preference for it to become an academy sponsored by the Inspiration Trust. A consultation on the proposals will be held after Easter.

The Hewett School, on Cecil Road, sits on a large site with substantial grounds near Norwich city centre, and the future of this land has been a key issue for anti-academy campaigners.

The school's land is owned by the Central Norwich Foundation Trust, not Norfolk County Council or the school's governors, although groups represented on the trust include Norfolk County Council and Hewett governors, as well as Norwich City College, Norwich University of the Arts, and Aviva.

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Usually, a school's grounds transfer to its new sponsor when it signs a funding agreement with the Department for Education – the moment at which the academy conversion becomes set in stone.

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'Baseless allegations'

Campaigners fighting the academy conversion have raised fears some of the Hewett's land could be sold off during or after academisation.

However, in a statement, Dame Rachel de Souza, the chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, said: 'Contrary to baseless allegations, we would be opposed to the sell-off of any land, rather it is a legacy for the Hewett children.'

Stephen Little, a Hewett parent and one of the organisers of the We're Backing Hewett campaign which collected more than 2,000 signatures opposing academisation, said: 'The problem is it's out of our control. They might say that now, but as the school is unaccountable to the community [if it becomes an academy] there is nothing to hold them to that.'

No-one from the Inspiration Trust has given any interviews about the organisation's intentions for the school, or its land, since it was first named as the preferred sponsor earlier this month, although it did issue a statement when its was first named as proposed sponsor, and another when the academy order was signed.

Inspiration currently runs three schools in Norwich: one primary, the Norwich Primary Academy; one high school, the Jane Austen College; and one sixth form, the Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form. It also has other schools in the region.

It has also recently been given the green light for a new primary free school, the Charles Darwin Primary, in Norwich, which does not currently have a site.

It has also not yet said if it supports Norfolk County Council's concept of a 'learning village' at the Hewett.

The council has promoted the idea as an alternative to academy conversion, although the learning village could still go ahead, even if the Hewett converts.

The council said the learning village would include extra post-16 education, enhanced early years activity, a free school for children on the autism spectrum, more adult education, a family and community support centre, and more sports facilities.

Inspiration Trust statement

In a statement, Inspiration Trust executive Dame Rachel de Souza said: 'For years, the Hewett – once the pride of Norwich – has not been performing as well as it might and has suffered from falling pupil numbers.

'Frankly, the Hewett community – pupils, parents and staff – have been let down and deserve better.

'Let's draw a line in the sand and get back to giving the Hewett students the best education possible.'

The statement said Inspiration aimed for the Hewett to be 'outstanding' in three years, and would 'put in considerable resources' to support its staff and open new opportunities for pupils.

Conservative candidate's view

Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green candidates for the Norwich South constituency, where the Hewett sits, have already spoken.

Now Tory candidate Lisa Townsend has said: 'I understand why this is such an emotive subject and I'm disappointed to see Labour and the Liberal Democrats playing politics when the real issue is the education of young people in Norwich. All parents want their children to get the best possible education in a nurturing environment but the plain truth is the Hewett has been failing for a long time now and it would wrong for the Government to stand aside and continue to let the futures of our young people suffer.

'The Inspiration Trust has a good record of improving standards and it is right the local community can now get on with the consultation to decide what they want to happen.

'As [education minister] Nick Gibb has said, there is nothing mutually exclusive about the proposal of a learning village and academisation, and it is absolutely right the wishes of parents, teachers and other local parties are considered before any decision is made.'

The UKIP candidate did not respond to a request for comment.

Consultation will push final decision beyond general election

Campaigners fighting proposals to turn the Hewett into an academy have two prongs to their attack.

One is of whether the school should become an academy, sponsored by the Inspiration Trust. The other is the process used to make the decision.

A belief the government wanted to push through conversion before the election was strengthened by its decision to issue an academy order without a request from the school's interim executive board (IEB) – the first such case in Norfolk.

However, a letter to parents from the Inspiration Trust and IEB said a consultation, which is a legal requirement, will not take place until next term, and will last four-to-six weeks.

Only then could the government sign a funding agreement, making the academy conversion legally irreversible

It is widely assumed a re-elected Conservative government would proceed with the Hewett's conversion.

Whether any incoming Labour government would do the same remains unknown.

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