Costessey academy principal pledges to raise money for new buildings

The principal of Norwich's newest academy has promised to raise the money herself if the government does not fund the hoped-for �20m-plus new building.

Rachel de Souza and staff and pupils at Ormiston Victory Academy, Costessey, are waiting nervously for the spending review on October 20, when ministers are expected to announce which academies will get money.

Mrs de Souza said she was expecting a 'reduced financial package', but added: 'If the worst came to the worst I would raise the money myself. We will find a way.'

The promise came as the academy, which opened earlier this month in the former Costessey High on Middleton Crescent, released images of what the new building could look like - inside and out.

And Mrs de Souza outlined the education revolution she has introduced since the new status, saying: 'Everything has changed'.

She told of a host of measures to achieve a balance between firm discipline, academic excellence and fun, including:

Students standing up in silence when an adult walks into a room

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After-hours lessons, including an astronomy GCSE for pupils and parents

A ban on students, including sixth formers, leaving the school at any time during the day, including lunchtime

Morning assemblies with classical music

Business dress and leadership responsibilities for sixth formers

A new health and beauty studio

A daily breakfast club with morning newspapers

A refurbished entrance to give the school the feel of a business.

Mrs de Souza, who was formerly principal of Barnfield West Academy in Luton, where she oversaw a remarkable upturn in fortunes, said: 'When I came here for interview the student council members said they were proud of their school and proud of being in Costessey. But they felt they were looked down on. I promised them we would change people's attitudes.

'I have had one parent ring up to say: 'What have you done to my son? He looks better and happier'.'

She added: 'I've done this before and I understand how to do something like this. I think the team of staff, parents and students were ready for this. With their support, it has been very smooth.'

She said behaviour had been 'transformed' - a statement backed up by sixth former Chloe Cousins, who was at Costessey High from age 11.

Chloe, 18, said: 'There's so much that has changed. I nearly had a heart attack when a year seven student held the door open for me. And when I held the door open for a year eight, they said 'thank you'.

'If you'd been here six months ago this corridor would've been really noisy, with lots of shouting from teachers. And the canteen has changed. It's not 'bell, run', it's much more orderly now. There's a big effort from everyone in terms of attitude.'

Mrs de Souza said: 'When an adult walks into a classroom the children stand up and are silent. It's about respect.

'Their uniform is perfect. Students are saying that they've got the same teacher but their lessons are much better. The staff have come back keen to make a difference.

'Last night from 7-9pm there was a GCSE astronomy course for parents and children. We've tried to cater for students who want to learn in different ways. But we are not compromising on the academic side. We've said all children should be striving to get maths and English GCSEs.

'We have brought in lessons that engage and interest the students. We want them running to school.'

The uptake of school meals has increased threefold, with students told to eat in the canteen and to learn to socialise with other students and teachers.

The academy is divided into four colleges – Courage, Discovery, Endeavour and Enterprise.

Mrs de Souza said: 'There are college assemblies each morning. We have classical music playing and I speak to them. It's very formal and sets them up for the day.

'The sixth-formers are assistant form tutors with leadership responsibilities. They come to assembly and stay at the academy all day. They wear business dress. They only get a pass out to leave the site if they have done all their work.

'We've also spent �400,000 on IT equipment. The IT was like the Dark Ages.'

Bolder plans are for the future, and hinge on the October funding announcement.

But Mrs de Souza has a number of ideas already, including a 4G sports pitch that could be used by the community and plasma screens covering entire walls, to be used to screen events including the World Cup for the community and to show images to help with lessons.

She said: 'I think there are some bits of the building that will stay. But from the students' point of view it's about creating an experience and providing great facilities.

'The students want outside playing space and something to do. They are always concerned about toilets, seating and lighting. So we have to make sure that those things are excellent.'

She said she was working closely with the nearby primary school headteachers, while the involvement of lead sponsor the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) was already bearing fruit, with the academy's top A-level scientists going twice a week to the N&N to work in the labs.

Do you have an education story? Call Steve Downes on 01263 513920 or email