Former education secretary Charles Clarke
has added his support to controversial plans to transform a Norwich
school into an academy.
In a letter to the EDP, Mr Clarke, MP for Norwich South
(pictured right), said he hoped the £25m Heartsease High
project would “flourish”, and “where a school has a strong ethos, for example relating to faith, educational motivation can be dramatically raised”.
The comments are a fresh twist in the saga of the academy plan, which is sponsored by Christian businessman Graham Dacre
and the Bishop of Norwich
Mr Clarke will once again be going toe-to-toe with Norwich North Labour MP Ian Gibson
, who is a vocal opponent of academies and organised a public meeting to rally opposition earlier this month.
They have a long history of disagreeing on key government policies - most notably when Dr Gibson led a rebellion against variable top-up fees, which was being steered through parliament by Mr Clarke.
In a letter to the EDP, Mr Clarke said: “The very existence of a new school is intended to provide the kind of boost which transforms local educational opportunities. This means new physical premises and a fresh start.
“It means the freedom to look at the local issues of educational achievement with an unfettered and innovative eye. It means addressing the issues of personal educational motivation which have been a real problem in the area and have led in the past to unacceptably high levels of truancy.”
He added: “This all ought to be a source of excitement and encouragement to all those who seek better educational opportunities and to raise aspirations in this part of the city.”
One of the main areas of conflict in the plan, which is out to public consultation, is whether or not it is a faith school.
The sponsors, who will put up £2m to help fund the new school, are adamant that it is not. They say they will use Norfolk's agreed religious education syllabus and will not change the Heartsease High admissions policy.
Mr Clarke said: “The school will not in fact be a faith school, where faith is an aspect of selection for admission. But all the evidence shows that where a school has a strong ethos, for example relating to faith, educational motivation can be dramatically raised.”
On May 16, academies hit the headlines when the Tories announced they were abandoning their support for grammar schools and throwing their weight behind the programme.John Barnes
, Norfolk secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “Perhaps Mr Clarke thinks he can be education secretary again.
“It's dispiriting that so many people are coming out in support of academies. They are not notably successful and we continue to be worried. The experience is that a couple of years after being taken out of local authority control they change their admissions policy and conditions of employment.”