Walk in line and wear right socks: Parents school rules anger

Hethersett Academy, pictured inset, has been questioned by some parents over its disciplinary approach 

Hethersett Academy, pictured inset, has been questioned by some parents over its disciplinary approach - Credit: Danielle Booden/PA

Parents at a city school have accused teachers of prioritising exam grades over the mental wellbeing of pupils. 

The Hethersett Academy, part of the Inspiration Trust, is renowned for its strict rules.

Children have to wear very specific uniform, follow painted lines in the corridor and risk being banned from the end of year proms if they break the rules too many times.

One parent, who did not wish to be named, said a points system is in place where pupils who clocked up more than 10 behavioural points are barred from the parties.

The school said it has clear rules in place to establish a safe and welcoming culture. And its overall academic performance is excellent.

Hethersett Academy have imposed a bunch of new rules for their students. Picture: Danielle Booden

Hethersett Academy have imposed a bunch of new rules for their students. - Credit: Danielle Booden

But parents have raised concerns about exam results being prioritised over the mental health of children following the  lockdowns - a claim denied by the school. 

One mother of a boy at the school, who did not wish to be named, said: "Several parents have been reporting severe anxiety in their children.

"There have been a number of number of increased detentions, internal isolations, parents removing their children from the school, suspensions and permanent exclusions since the zero-tolerance behaviour policy was introduced." 

Students taking exams

The Inspiration Trust has been questioned over its approach to learning - Credit: PA

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The school has previously denied it operates a zero-tolerance approach. 

Ali Pettitt, whose daughter is in Year 10 at the Queen's Road school, added: "There are without doubt concerns among some parents. 

"It is disappointing to hear the rules surrounding the prom as it really is a coming-of-age moment for a child.

"There is still work to do but I think Hethersett Academy and the Inspiration Trust is a high-achieving academic setting and generally has a very good quality of teaching." 

Alison Pettitt is one of the parents angry at the new rules imposed at Hethersett Academy. Picture:

Alison Pettitt is one of the parents angry at the new rules imposed at Hethersett Academy. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Since the trust took over the academy, the school has been judged to be 'outstanding' in all areas.

But Mrs Pettitt, who is qualified as a teacher, added: "The worrying thing for me is we are raising children with fear to be frightened of those who are supposed to be overseeing their futures. 

"A school's primary objective is to prepare a child for adult life and adults do not get reprimanded for the wrong colour socks. I can teach a child irrespective of the colour of their socks." 

The school and Hethersett district councillor Adrian Dearnley (Cons) both said they have not received any direct complaints from parents.

County councillor Adrian Dearnley, who has defected from the Greens to the Conservatives.

Hethersett councillor Adrian Dearnley - Credit: Archant

Mr Dearnley said: "This type of situation is a national issue at the moment with some schools having different policies on how to punish bad behaviour. 

"There has been a further complication with what has happened with Covid over the last two years with teachers needing to consider how to get back to acceptable levels of work. 

"It's a complex issue nationally. Even in a deprived area results have been good as a result of a stricter approach in schools.

"My understanding is that Hethersett Academy has been doing very well in recent years."

Former Inspiration Trust chief executive Rachel de Souza - who is the children's commissioner - has recently been grilled in front of a parliamentary committee for her track record on exclusions.

Children's commissioner Rachel de Souza.

Children's commissioner Rachel de Souza. - Credit: Tom Barnes

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services (Cons), said the authority works with trusts to reduce exclusions.

As part of this work, the county council has been involved with the Norwich Opportunities Area initiative where government support provided extra resources for children frequently misbehaving or not attending school.

Mr Fisher continued: "There has been a noted increase in mental health issues with children and young people as a result of Covid and we launched the Rise Up programme a couple of weeks ago working with many schools." 

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services.

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

A spokesman for Hethersett Academy said: "We expect all pupils to follow a basic standard of behaviour with any sanctions both measured and appropriate.

"We recognise the challenges that our students have faced over the last few years due to the pandemic and we have a comprehensive support programme in place to help any children that are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing.”

The Inspiration Trust has been contacted.

How can schools balance mental health and exam success? 

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the national association would like to see a new approach to the exam system which assists the transition to post-16 education in a "more streamlined way". 

This would involve a wider range of methods including online assessment.

Ms McCulloch said: "Schools and colleges work very hard to support the mental health and wellbeing of pupils who are taking exams and have well-established pastoral and academic systems to help with stress and anxiety.

Pupils walking to school

Schools face a difficult balancing act when it comes to exams and mental health - Credit: PA

"The problem with the current exam system comes from reforms to exams imposed by the government which has made GCSEs, in particular, heavily dependent on memorisation and a large set of terminal exams sat during the summer.

"This puts students under a great deal of pressure, which has been exacerbated by the educational disruption caused by the pandemic over the past two years."