The case against Heartsease academy

Yesterday, the Bishop of Norwich set out why he is sponsoring the controversial academy plan at Heartsease High in Norwich. Today, the Keep Heartsease High Open group sets out why it is against the plan - claiming that Christian views could be “imposed”, while the academy would be in the control of a “few unaccountable individuals”.

Yesterday, the Bishop of Norwich set out why he is sponsoring the controversial academy plan at Heartsease High in Norwich. Today, the Keep Heartsease High Open group sets out why it is against the plan - claiming that Christian views could be “imposed”, while the academy would be in the control of a “few unaccountable individuals”.

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Bishop Graham's piece in support of the proposed Heartsease academy raises a number of questions. His opening paragraph expresses sorrow for his former classmates who were denied the privilege of the grammar school and condemned to a local secondary modern, and yet he goes on to propose the establishment of an academy.

Academies were designed to replace schools which are either in special measures or underachieving, or to meet the demand for new places. None of these reasons applies to Heartsease High School.

Heartsease High is not a failing school. It is an improving school. It ranks among the 100 most improved schools this year. It has produced impressive key stage three and GCSE results.

The bishop talks of a Christian ethos, but the examples he gives - valuing the individual, freedom from bullying, respect for others - are human values and not unique to his faith; indeed they are ideals which the school is already fostering, so what extra standards or restrictions does he expect the Christian dimension to bring?

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It is good to hear that, initially at least, he does not propose selective admission, and will follow the Norfolk agreed syllabus for religious education, however the track record of academies in these respects is not good, and once free of local authority guidance and control they often implement dramatic changes of policy, and there is nothing the community can do to stop them.

Next he plays the environmental card. Surely it cannot have escaped anyone's notice that the environmental sciences are a major topic in this country at the moment.

Society is demanding that all schools address the issues and educate the next generation of voters and workers to make informed decisions for our continued prosperity and survival.

This is the expectation placed on schools and is already happening in schools across the county without academy status. To this end Norwich City College is free to work with any or all schools regardless of their governance.

He goes on to state that academy status for Heartsease would lead to benefits for Blyth-Jex and Sprowston High. Astounding! On what does he base this claim? You may think that you are not directly affected, but currently only 10pc of secondary age pupils in North Norwich attend Heartsease High.

Increasing the population of the school from four hundred to over a thousand cannot but have a profound effect on the Blyth-Jex, Sprowston and Thorpe St Andrew high schools.

Remember, “To him that has shall more be given, but from him that has not shall be taken away even what he has” (Matt 25:28). How would the local community improve by gaining an independent school but losing a local authority one?

The bishop does hint at something which rings an alarm bell in the minds of some. Although he mentions his support for the Charles Darwin Trust, it should be remembered that a couple of years ago he campaigned in the EDP against yuletide greetings cards containing scenes of snow and holly.

From his standpoint only specifically Christian iconography should have been used. His co-sponsor is Graham Dacre, and few can have come into contact with him without being aware of his evangelical zeal.

Will they impose their views if they succeed in taking control of this school?

The bishop says: “The churches in the Heartsease area are already engage in exemplary work with young people on the estate”. If this is so, and all our youngsters are already free to take up these opportunities, why does he want a captive audience in the form of a high school? The experience of existing pupils and staff when a school acquires the “faith dimension” is not always pleasant.

At first reading Bishop Graham's article seems plausible, but on closer inspection he provides no evidence as to how his proposed academy would enhance the education of our children.

Is it really a good idea to hand over buildings provided by local ratepayers to a consortium which will use them to run what is in effect a private school funded by taxpayers, governed by a board without the constraints of local accountability, and free to use the resources paid for by the general public not just for their particular vision of education, but for such other purposes as they may see fit?

So far the only information available to parents, the local community, and most importantly the parents of children currently in the feeder schools, whose future will be directly affected, has come from the pro-academy lobby.

The Keep Heartsease High Open group wishes to get everyone - and we mean everyone - involved in the debate as to whether an academy is the best choice for north Norwich.

To this end we have organised a public meeting to be held at Heartsease High at 7pm on Friday May 4. Bishop Graham and Mr Dacre have been invited to speak, there will be speakers putting the case against, and contribution from the floor will be welcome.

When the governors of Heartsease High were asked to enter into a feasibility study, many were left with the impression that they would make the final decision on any move to academy status.

In fact it is Cambridge Education Consultants which will make the final recommendation to the education secretary, and so this could be your last chance to influence the future of your child's school.

The simple question is, should you have a say in how local schools are run, or should you hand over total control to a few unaccountable individuals free to take things in any direction which they wish?

In tomorrow's EDP education correspondent Steve Downes gives the background to the academy saga and analyses both sides of the debate.