THE Minister for the East of England visited the former Belhus Chase School yesterday as it opened its doors for the first time as an academy.

The school, on Nethan Drive Aveley, has re-opened as the Ormiston Park Academy- the country’s 200th academy.

Minister Barbara Follett met with Principal Tess Walker and the pupils to talk about what the change to academy status means to them.

Mrs Follett said: “It’s marvellous to attract more funding to buy equipment, but becoming an academy also generates an atmosphere where people love being there and learning. I’ve seen that atmosphere here today.”

She added: “Academies have shown that they can improve success faster than non-academies.

“We know they work so now we are on a drive to get more of them.

“The Government has removed the barrier that a potential sponsor had to have £2m funding.

“They can now be assessed on their academic track record and this change paves the way for others to become sponsors, like academic institutions.”

As well as a new name, the change to academy status means the school will get more funding- leading to smaller classes and more equipment.

It also means a new school building can be constructed, due to open in 2012.

The academy is sponsored by Ormiston Academies Trust, who also sponsor Tilbury’s Gateway Academy.

The school is now free from local authority control and will be able to set its own curriculum for many subjects.

Principal Tess Walker said: “Barbara Follett’s visit today was informative and enjoyable. The future of academies will be secure if all MPs are as supportive and enthusiastic as Mrs Follett.

“ I am grateful for her support for the school, and academies as a whole.”

Councillor Garry Hague, Leader of Thurrock Council, said: “At a time when Thurrock is celebrating its best-ever GCSE results it was marvellous for Barbara Follett to visit the newly named Ormiston Park Academy where the number of pupils achieving five or more A* to C grades leapt 12 per cent to 86 per cent this year.”