Uncertainty over academy's future

HUNDREDS of Thetford children broke up for their summer holidays last week amid uncertainty over whether they will be attending an academy in September.

HUNDREDS of Thetford children broke up for their summer holidays last week amid uncertainty over whether they will be attending an academy in September.

This has long been expected to open for the 2010-11 school year at the existing Charles Burrell and Rosemary Musker sites, with a third site in the town centre to follow by 2013.

Students will even be picking up their new, academy-branded uniforms during the holidays - but could find themselves still attending the two high schools in September.

All attention will now be focused on education secretary Michael Gove, who has the power to make or break the schemes, whose new complexes were set to cost a total of at least �115m.

Mr Gove is reviewing the capital funding for more than 100 schools, including the Norfolk academies, and is expected within a week to announce how much money - if any - will be handed to the eagerly-awaited projects.

If he confirms the funding in full, the projects will go ahead.

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But if he either cancels the funding completely, or significantly reduces it, there is a danger that the sponsors Wymondham College may not be able to go ahead.

Publicly, there is a “business as usual” message from education chiefs and sponsors.

A spokesman for the county council sought to reassure parents in Thetford, saying that, if Mr Gove did not give the plan the go-ahead by the end of July, Charles Burrell and Rosemary Musker would still “work together as one school”.

Pupils would wear their Thetford Academy uniforms, while Christine Carey, the academy's principal designate, would take over as executive principal of the schools.

Privately, however, the Times understands that there are genuine fears in Norfolk that the government's shift of focus from academies replacing lower-performing schools to encouraging the best schools to apply for the change of status, may put paid to some, if not all, of the county's projects.

Fred Corbett, the county council's deputy director of education, said: “The sponsors have forwarded additional information to the education secretary and had meetings with the Department for Education to explain why they need the capital investment.

“Even if we don't get the full capital funding, we are having a discussion about what would be a sufficiently large amount to provide enough refurbishment and remodelling of the existing buildings.”

Mr Corbett said, whatever the announcement, all of the students would arrive at school in September under the new principal and reshaped staff teams, with a new curriculum and improvements to the existing buildings.

“The only difference will be whether the schools are academies, independent of the local authority, or the existing predecessor schools under the local authority,” he added.

Mr Corbett said that if the academy projects did not go ahead, the schools would keep their current names.

The first doubts emerged about the academies earlier this month, when Mr Gove announced the cancellation of the �55bn Building Schools for the Future scheme, which was introduced by the previous Labour government to rebuild or refurbish every high and special school in England.