On Saturday 500 people marched defiantly through the streets of Norwich to protest against the proposed academisation of the last remaining local authority secondary school in the city. Despite the obvious anger, there was a friendly, vibrant feel to the demonstration which was made up of parents, students and local campaigners. The march moved steadily through the city centre with chants such as “Whose school? Our school” and “Rachel de Souza – email loser” (more on that later) getting the interest of Saturday shoppers who applauded from the sidelines. Many of the students had made placards saying “Hewett belongs to Norwich”, “Hands off Hewett” and “Je suis Hewett”. At the end of the march there were speeches from students, governors and campaigners supporting the school.
The Hewett School, which is based close to the city centre was put into special measures last November. Two weeks ago the government said it wanted it to become an academy sponsored by the Inspiration Trust. The trust is well known in Norfolk for its vast amount of vested interests and shady connections to the government. Last year, the trust was accused of getting tip offs from OFSTED about inspection dates, but luckily for the trust, emails and leadership team minutes managed to get lost just before the investigation began (hence the witty placards). The Chief Executive of the Trust, Dame Rachel de Souza is also known for her ruthless management style and a history of strike breaking. The Sun newspaper once famously ran an article about her bringing the army in to break a strike.
The Chair of the Inspiration Trust is none other Sir Theodore Agnew, close associate of the academies minister, Lord Nash. Agnew also chairs the DfE’s academies board. It is now in a race against time to force through the deal before the General Election “purdah” begins at the end of March. Norfolk County has threatened a High Court Challenge to the plans and wants to see the school form part of a “learning village”. There will be an extraordinary meeting of the Children’s Services Committee on Tuesday to decide whether or not to take the case to Judicial Review and campaigners are taking a petition London tomorrow. The Inspiration Trust has refused to comment.