Page last updated at 15:27 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 16:27 UK

Debate rages over academy schools

By Nic Rigby
BBC News, Norwich

Students in class
The move to make Heartsease an academy proved controversial

One of the big education issues for parents in Norwich North - where a by-election is taking place next week - is that of academy schools.

These schools, originally called city academies when first established in 2000, are state-funded privately run schools with outside sponsors.

In Norwich, Heartsease High School became the Open Academy in 2008 despite opposition from parents and teachers.

Controversy dogged the process and its first principal has since departed.

Heartsease received extra investment from the government and sponsors the Bishop of Norwich and Christian businessman Graham Dacre.

The pupils had new uniforms and the school had a new principal Lindsay Knight.

I hope whoever is elected to represent Norwich North will be a supporter of academies and will do everything to support it
Graham Dacre

Everything appeared to set the scene for success, but then at the beginning of the month parents of pupils at the school received letters saying Ms Knight would no longer be principal of the school.

Mr Dacre told the BBC that he hoped "the academy could make a positive impact on the community of Heartsease".

"I hope whoever is elected to represent Norwich North will be a supporter of academies and will do everything to support it," he said.

But Mike Smith, Norfolk county secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said he could see very little advantage from a school becoming an academy as they are still funded by the government, but lose local accountability.

'Radical new approach'

In December last year a report by the Sutton Trust education charity found that 13 of 29 academies inspected by Ofsted were rated satisfactory, with only six rated outstanding.

Labour candidate for Norwich North seat Chris Ostrowski told the BBC that academies should not be imposed from above.

"We need to make sure everyone is consulted... so everyone comes together to raise standards," he said.

Chloe Smith, the Conservative candidate, said there had been some local concern about Heartsease and the departure of the principal.

"We need a radical new approach to getting the supply side of schools right, so that parents and church groups and charities can set up schools and run them the way they know is best for their children," she said.

Liberal Democrat candidate April Pond said she was not a great supporter of the government's academy school policy but felt at the moment they might be the only way to get schools up to acceptable levels.

She said: "My view is that it would have been really nice if this government had done what it said it would do and bring all schools to a reasonable standard."

'Privatisation by stealth'

Green candidate Rupert Read criticised the need for academy schools.

"We believe the move to academy schools is wrong. It is privatisation by stealth. Education should be about giving all our kids the best chance," he said.

Glenn Tingle, the candidate for the United Kingdom Independence Party, said academy schools were not the answer for improving education.

He said a return to the 11-plus exam was needed and added: "We would like a grammar school in every town."

Put An Honest Man Into Parliament candidate Craig Murray said the academy schemes can give "undue influence over children to people motivated by peculiar religious views".

Independent candidate Bill Holden said before setting up academies politicians should first "make sure children can read or write".

Rev Robert West, the British National Party candidate, said academies evaded the real issue of the need for discipline in schools.

Other candidates in the election are Thomas Burridge (Libertarian Party), Howling Laud (Official Monster Raving Loony Party), Anne Fryatt (None of the Above party) and Peter Baggs (Independent).

The Norwich North by-election is taking place on Thursday 23 July.

Print Sponsor

City candidates give their views
14 Jul 09 |  Norfolk
Norwich braced for key by-election
03 Jul 09 |  UK Politics
Council begins 500m schools plan
03 Jul 09 |  England
Academy proposal gets green light
07 Jan 08 |  Norfolk
Academy backers recruit principal
17 Jan 08 |  Norfolk
Academies win government support
29 Feb 08 |  England


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific