Recruitment figures deal a fresh blow to Hewett School and Sewell Park College

PUBLISHED: 06:00 06 April 2015 | UPDATED: 09:06 06 April 2015

Sewell Park College. Picture: Denise Bradley

Sewell Park College. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant 2012

The challenge facing two troubled city high schools have intensified after it emerged that more than half the places for new pupils are likely to be unfilled next September.

Sewell Park College

News of a sharp drop in pupils entering Sewell Park College underlines the challenge it faces.

It already had a recruitment problem, with only 114 of the 210 places for children entering the school last September filled - a 46pc vacancy rate. Today’s figures show 71 of the 210 places for September 2015 have been taken. This 66pc vacancy rate is Norfolk’s highest.

Sewell Park has had a difficult couple of years.

In August, 34pc of students achieved at least five GCSEs at A*-C, including English and maths - the second year in a row it missed the government’s target of 40pc - and headteacher Gavin Bellamy resigned.

The interim governors have announced plans to close the sixth form, and in November Ofsted declared the school ‘inadequate’. That report came out after the October 31 deadline for parents to submit their high school preferences.

Falling pupil numbers mean falling income, and, together with increased pension and national insurance costs coming into effect in September, this has led to a restructuring of the school’s work force, with teachers likely to be made redundant.

However, there have been some positive signs.

Last month, Ofsted noted improving standards among pupils due to sit their GCSEs this summer, and found interim headteacher Jeremy Rowe had “quickly given the school a strong and purposeful momentum for improvement”.

And last month Penny Bignell, who led Cromer Academy to a ‘good’ Ofsted report, was unveiled as its new permanent head.

The government wants the school to become an academy, sponsored by Right for Success.

Both the Hewett School and Sewell Park College have suffered disappointing GCSE results in recent years, and are reeling from Ofsted reports which put them in special measures last November.

Although monitoring inspections last term noted real improvement at the schools, the news that Sewell Park has only filled one third of its places for new the Year 7, and the Hewett filled less than 40pc, will add to their difficulties.

Their vacancy rates are the highest in Norfolk, and the numbers are particularly stark for Sewell Park, which saw its number of Year 7 vacancies rise from 96 last September to an anticipated 139 next September.

The figures, supplied by Norfolk County Council, are based on high school places offered to parents and pupils on March 2.

The Hewett School

The Hewett School has suffered falling pupil numbers for a number of years, which are at least partly explained by a demographic dip in children reaching high school age in the Norwich area.

According to council figures, 81 of the 180 places for incoming Year 7 pupils were filled last September - a vacancy rate of 55pc. For next September, only 69 places have been filled - a 62pc vacancy rate that is the second highest in Norfolk.

Falling numbers have led to a budget deficit, which the school has been working to reduce for some time.

Interim head Phil Hearne said the school’s interim executive board is consulting staff about a restructuring proposal which he described as the final phase of efforts to pay off the deficit by March 2016.

He said the school is likely to lose five teaching staff and 10 support staff posts, although not all of these would be full time.

He said: “I would like to reassure parents that, because of falling numbers of students, we are able to maintain the curriculum and ensure that there are sufficient teachers to cover all subject areas.”

The Hewett has had disappointing GCSE results in recent years, was put in special measures in November, and recently saw a bid for government funds to refurbish its aging buildings rejected.

Its future has become the subject of the first public row between the government and Norfolk County Council about plans to convert a school into an academy.

The council and campaigners oppose moves for it to become an academy, sponsored by the Inspiration Trust.

John Catton, chairman of Sewell Park’s interim executive board, which replaced its governors last summer, blamed a recent dip in high school pupil numbers in the Norwich area - which is now starting to reverse - as well as its poor performance in recent years.

He said: “That’s something which we are very confident that can be worked through, and we think that within a few years, with the up-turn in outcomes of the school, which we fully anticipate this year, recruitment will turn around and that will help the school go from strength to strength.”

Falling pupil numbers will lead to falling income for both schools, which are currently in the midst of restructuring processes which will see staff levels cut.

However, Mr Catton said the fall in pupil numbers was “very much in line” with the planning they did ahead of the staff re-organisation.

Recruitment figures for Norfolk high schools for 2015-16

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Across the greater Norwich area, the number of places on offer, and the number of places filled, have both risen by about 50 between September 2014 and September 2015.

However, the number of unfilled places across the area remained at just under 500.

The Jane Austen College, a free school run by the Inspiration Trust, opened in Colegate in September 2014, adding an extra 180 Year 7 places to the system.

The figures for September 2015 suggest it will fill 143 places, compared to 140 last year.

Hewett School sign and entrance on Hall Road. Picture: Denise BradleyHewett School sign and entrance on Hall Road. Picture: Denise Bradley

Five schools in the greater Norwich area have filled all their places for incoming Year 7 pupils: City of Norwich School, Framingham Earl High, Hellesdon High, Notre Dame High and Thorpe St Andrew School.

And while Sewell Park and the Hewett are struggling with student recruitment, Hellesdon High School last month completed a consultation on increasing its number of planned admissions for 2016-17, “in line with the school’s growing popularity”.

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