45-hour school week: sponsor wants to help area that is ‘not prosperous’

THE entrepreneur funding Great Yarmouth schoolchildren to enjoy horse-riding and sport at a radical new academy wants to fight the “apartheid in education”.

But parents at Greenacre Primary School are divided over plans for Year 5 and 6 pupils to stay until 6pm when the school becomes Great Yarmouth Primary Academy in September.

While there is little opposition to the academy move, a petition against the change to the timetable has more than 130 signatures - with concerned parents saying a programme “longer than the adult working week” will leave their youngsters worn out.

And others have said the move will eat away at precious family time.

Theodore Agnew, the multi-millionaire sponsor of the academy move, acknowledged their criticism but says parents need to let go of their fears.

“My message to those who don’t agree with it is to start with an open mind and see how your child reacts to it,” said the father-of-two.

“Where there are justifiable mitigating circumstances then we will look realistically at any of those.

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“I sent my own 11-year-old to an Indian school last year - he started at 6am and finished at 10pm.

“I’m not suggesting we do that, but 9am to 6pm is certainly not too much.”

Under the new regime, the school day for pupils aged nine to 11 years old would end at 6pm. At the end of standard lessons at 3.30pm, those youngsters would be given a school-supplied snack and drink.

Then from 3.45pm to 5pm they would be offered a high-quality, free programme of extra-curricular activities, ranging from sport and dancing to IT and horse-riding; from 5pm to 6pm they would be doing homework and reading in school, freeing them from the need to do it at home.

After October half-term, the plan is for youngsters in years three and four to join in the extra-curricular programme.

Aylsham-born Mr Agnew, who has set-up more than 20 companies, added a broad curriculum will improve the life chances of youngsters in deprived areas.

“My reason for doing this is to give the kids of Yarmouth an equal chance in having a successful life,” he said.

“I don’t like the apartheid in education as if you’re middle class you can buy a house in the catchment area of a good school but if you’re less well off it’s a lottery.

“The difference to your life chances is enormous and I want children to have this opportunity.”

He said he is open to speaking to parents to address concerns and ensure plans are the best they can be, but wanted to make clear his sole intention is to help.

“It’s a part of Yarmouth that is not prosperous and parents don’t have the means to offer this to their children,” he explained.

“I’m a huge believer that as part of a child’s education you should find things a child is good at. Nearly every child is good at something and you don’t necessarily tease those out from a purely academic point.

“That’s why we wanted to offer this enriched curriculum.

He added the Dickens Road school would be allowed to expand if it can show there is a demand for the places, but he will not profit from it - in fact he stands to lose money.

But he says enrichment alongside academic lessons could be the future of education.

“I do think this is the way forward,” he added. “And I’m confident we will see much more of this kind of thing.”