Civil servants said new Norwich free school would have “high” impact on Sewell Park College and the Open Academy

Schools minister, Nick Gibb, speaks before cutting the ribbon to officially open the Jane Austen Col

Schools minister, Nick Gibb, speaks before cutting the ribbon to officially open the Jane Austen College. With him is executive principal, Claire Heald. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2014

Ministers approved a new free school in central Norwich despite warnings its opening would have a high impact on two schools less than two miles away, it has emerged.

The Jane Austen College, on Colegate, was given the go ahead in June 2013 and admitted its first pupils last month. It is sponsored by the Inspiration Trust, and education minister Nick Gibb officially opened it on October 16.

However, a Department for Education impact assessment, published yesterday afternoon, showed that civil servants judged that it would have a 'high' impact on Sewell Park College and the Open Academy, which already had 335 and 366 surplus places.

The document noted that Sewell Park was 1.1 miles away, and said it had 'well below average' GCSE results.

It said: 'It is, therefore, more likely to lose pupils to the new school than other schools. It also has below average attainment with an Ofsted rating requires improvement, so parents may be attracted to an alternative.'

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The document made similar comments about the Open Academy, which was 1.8 miles away, and said the free school could also have a 'moderate' impact on the Hewett School, which had 563 unfilled places.

The assessment did not say what impact the Jane Austen College would have on their viability, but, in contrast, said it would be 'unlikely to affect the long term viability' of Notre Dame School.

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The impact assessment is likely to revive debate about the whether there was a need for the new school.

Its executive principal, Claire Heald, could not be contacted last night, but speaking last month she said: 'There is an absolute need. When you look at the figures for Norwich more widely, I think there's a demographic dip, but in central Norwich there were more students than places without us.

'It's about more than numbers, it's about students. Whilst there are some very good schools in Norwich, it's important for parents to have choice and a good local school that they know will have the highest of standards.

'We could see there was a need for that in Norwich, and parents told us there was a need.'

A Department for Education spokesman said: 'Delivering the best schools and skills for our young people is all part of our plan for education and free schools are a vital part of this. They are responding to what parents what - providing more choice than ever before and allowing thousands more children the opportunity to go to an outstanding state school.

'The application process is very competitive and all proposals are rigorously assessed before they are approved.'

Jeremy Rowe, who has been seconded as Sewell Park headteacher this term, said: 'At Sewell Park College we're looking forward to working with all of the schools in Norwich to ensure our city becomes a beacon for high-quality education. Our success in 2015, and beyond, will play a huge part in that success.

'We're looking forward to working in partnership with the Jane Austen College, and every school, to help Norwich to become an excellent city in which to go to school.'

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