Charles Dickens name is dropped as Portsmouth school becomes academy

Charles Dickens Primary School in Portsmouth. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (142311-2)
Charles Dickens Primary School in Portsmouth. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (142311-2)
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IT WAS named after Portsmouth’s most famous citizen.

But now city leaders, residents and enthusiasts of Charles Dickens have criticised the primary school in the ward where the author was born for changing its name.

Charles Dickens Primary School will become an academy from next month and to reflect that, the name will change, removing the first name of Portsmouth’s world famous author.

It will become known as Ark Dickens Primary Academy, as it is being taken over by the Ark group of schools.

The school is in Turner Road, not far from his birthplace in Old Commercial Road.

Ian Dickens is the great-great-grandson of the famous author. He said: ‘There’s a tradition with the school of his name which we hope they are proud of.

‘Removing Charles seems a little childish. If you have a name and you are proud of it, it seems odd to move away from it. We have many close links to it. My uncle opened it when it was built in the 1960s. There has been a family connection with it.’

Former pupil Alice Barnett, 18, said: ‘It’s a bit stupid changing the name of the school. The whole area is to do with Charles Dickens. You change the school, you are changing the area. I went there and I was proud to go there. His birthplace is up the road from us. It’s a shame.’

Paula Arthur, 64, from Old Commercial Road, said: ‘It’s a stupid idea. It’s a shame for the area. It was nice to have it as Charles Dickens school.’

Cllr Neill Young, cabinet member for children and education, said: ‘It’s using the Charles Dickens brand for commercialisation. It just doesn’t sit particularly well with me to have that name being associated with Ark the sponsor and then having Charles Dickens.

‘It feels like they are trying to associate a brand with his character. It’s disappointing they feel the need to use it in that way.’

A spokesperson for Ark Schools, said: ‘Charles Dickens Primary will become Ark Dickens Primary to reflect the fact that it will be making a new start in September as an Ark school.

‘Being part of the Ark network will provide new opportunities to work with other schools to strengthen standards.

‘We appreciate that Charles Dickens is a much-loved figure in our school and the wider community, which is why we decided to keep his surname as part of the school’s identity, after consulting with the local community.’

Almost half a century of education history

CHARLES Dickens Primary School has faced a lot of changes in recent years.

The school opened in 1968. It was only in April last year that the infant school and the junior school joined together to create a primary school.

Changing to an academy means that the school moves away from the local authority and is supported by a sponsor.

It means the school has more control over the way it is run. Academies get money directly from the government, not the local council. They don’t have to follow the national curriculum and they’re run by an academy trust which employs the staff.

Ark runs a number of different schools across the country including Charter Academy and Somers Park Primary School, both in Southsea.

‘It was a benefit to the city. It’s sad.’

PEOPLE across the city have been expressing their views on the name change.

Professor Tony Pointon, who ran the fund for the Charles Dickens statue in Guildhall Square, and is from the Dickens Fellowship in Portsmouth, has expressed his disappointment.

He said: ‘It has been known as Charles Dickens school for so long.

‘It was a great thing to be able to put on all our material that there was somebody from Charles Dickens school who helped with the unveiling of the statue and that the children from the school were involved in the unveiling.

‘That was a benefit to the city and the school. To cast that away lightly does seem to be a very sad thing.

‘Ark Dickens just doesn’t have the same ring to it.’

Professor Pointon added it’s a shame for the children who will go to the school in the future.

‘I think it’s losing something for the children,’ he said.

‘If children say “I went to Charles Dickens School” then it will be recognised forever.

‘If it’s Ark Dickens it won’t be recognised.

‘The fact that it’s in the Charles Dickens ward and it’s close to the birthplace identifies it for people. It’s something that you wouldn’t expect to lose.’

Councillor Paul Godier is a councillor for Charles Dickens ward on the city council.

He said: ‘To change the name I think would be a shame.

‘It is more than just a name, it is inspirational and educational.

‘I imagine that all if not most of the children that leave this school feel some connection to Charles Dickens.

‘I would hope that the school sees that connection and what the name really means to the area.’

But councillor Rob Wood, opposition spokesman for children and education at Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘I don’t have a problem with it. If it’s going to mean that they change the outcomes for the children in the area that’s the important thing.

‘They are still referring to Dickens.’

Councillor Margaret Foster, a councillor for Charles Dickens ward, echoed Cllr Wood’s thoughts.

To read The News’ view on this click here.