Row over Ipswich school plan

A BITTER tug of war has broken out today over the future of one of Ipswich's most high profile schools.

Tom Potter

A BITTER tug of war has broken out today over the future of one of Ipswich's most high profile schools.

Despite improving GCSE rates and opposition from staff Holywells High School could become a church sponsored academy.

Although no final decision has been made and a full consultation is yet to take place, sources at multicultural Holywells High have hit out at a proposal to convert the school into an academy, saying they have been put under pressure by the Suffolk County Council to become a faith school.

Deemed to be failing by inspectors in 2001, Holywells was put on special measures, and two years ago the school's governing body explored the prospect of academy status.

In March this year the local education authority notified the school that the Church of England was interested in sponsorship and set up a meeting between the school and Archdeacon John Cox, the Diocesan Director of Education, who addressed governors on the broader principles of academy status.

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According to people with links to the school, the governing body were not convinced of the suitability of the plan and began talks with BT and the Ormiston Trust, which has already formed two new academies as well as The Gateway Academy in Essex.

A teacher at Holywells, who did not want to be named said: “These developments came as a surprise to me as we were told before the summer holidays that the school governors had voted against a take-over of the school by the C of E.

“At the earlier meeting during July we were told that the school would therefore seek other partners.”

Another added: “The acting head has done his utmost but it seems like he's being shafted. His staff are fully behind him and he's been left in an awful position.

“We put a ballot in a couple of weeks ago and around 80 percent voted against it. Now, from what we can tell, they're coming in after Christmas.”

Holywells shared the BT/Ormiston philosophy and in July, Chair of governors, Cecilia Davies, wrote to inform the Church of consensus among the board against Holywells becoming a faith school - 13 governors voted against the move, with one abstention.

One parent at the school today said: “My children have been here for three years. When they first came here I was a bit concerned about what to expect but the school has improved a hell of a lot and it is mainly down to the teachers.”

Holywells' acting head teacher Terry Rufflles did not want to comment today.

- What do you think of the council's decision? Would Holywells benefit from becoming an academy? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail


But the council's director for children and young people, Rosalind Turner, assured everyone at the school that the decision was still yet to be made.

She said: “Holywells has made good progress in improving levels of achievement for young people attending the school and is committed to building on this hard work.

“However, it is recognised by both the school and the county council that to introduce a step change in outcomes for young people, an external partner who can offer a fresh perspective is needed. This would maximise opportunities for young people and the wider community.

“Our preference is for the Church of England as the lead sponsor, with BT and Suffolk County Council as co-sponsors.

“However it must be stressed that no decision has yet been made and this will be subject to full public consultation.

“We have met with the governors and the senior management and will shortly be meeting with all the staff and the trade unions to fully discuss the proposal.”

FASTFACTS: What are academies?

Academies were introduced by the then Secretary of State, David Blunkett, in 2000 to replace schools facing challenging circumstances.

As an academy, Holywells would be a publicly-funded independent school sponsored by a business, faith group or charity, working in tandem with central government and local education partners.

Holywells must have a named specialism and will receive dedicated funding for that specialism.

The private sponsor will appoint most of the governors, even in the case of Holywells where the County Council is acting as a co-sponsor.

These governors appoint the principal, employ staff, administer finances and approve the curriculum.

Schools can be considered for academy status if they are achieving less than 30 percent of students gaining 5 A*-C grades at GCSE including English and Maths.

Holywells was one of four schools in Suffolk below the target of 30pc of pupils achieving five good GCSEs but this year saw an 11pc increase in success rate with 31pc of students achieving the target.

The local authority must ensure full consultation with local parents, staff, trade unions, and students before a sponsor is chosen.