Questions over next steps as Norfolk high school has 76pc of new intake places empty two years in a row
PUBLISHED: 06:56 19 March 2018 | UPDATED: 15:54 19 March 2018
Questions over whether a city high school needs to rebuild its reputation have been raised, after it failed to fill three quarters of its new intake places two years in a row.
According to admissions data for this September’s year seven intake, the Hewett Academy filled 36 of its 150 places, leaving 76pc empty.
Despite investment in the site and improved exam results, it matches last year, when 76pc of its then-180 year seven places were also unfilled.
The Hewett once boasted 2,000 pupils, but fluctuating exam results have contributed to a decline in pupil roll
in all but one of the last 20 years.
James Goffin, for the Inspiration Trust, which took over the school in 2015, urged people to visit the school, and said places were a “complicated” issue.
He said several schools locally were ranked below the Hewett when it came to pupil progress, that geography and transport played a part and that it had been hit by nearby schools taking pupils above their planned intake.
“There is a fantastic staff team at the Hewett Academy, and we encourage families to visit the school and see for themselves how it has been transformed in recent years,” he said.
MORE: Revealed - which high schools have the most and least unfilled places for 2018/19
Chris Herries, a Labour Norwich city councillor for the area, said the school’s controversial academisation had damaged links with families.
“Certainly, one of the difficulties I would see the Hewett having is that, having alienated parents in the past, they need to do quite a lot of work with the community and with local people to reinstate it as a local school,” she said, “which is not an easy job.”
In September, principal Rebecca Handley-Kirk accepted there had been fractured relationships with the community, but said she was keen to forge stronger links.
When asked what could be done to improve the situation, Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said: “Parents should be given a say over their children’s education - genuine accountability and transparency. The school should be brought back as a community asset.”
Elsewhere in Norwich, the majority of high schools - including Notre Dame, Jane Austen College and Hellesdon - recorded waiting lists,
and some saw their empty places decline.
City Academy Norwich’s vacancy rate dropped from 11pc to 3pc, and Sprowston Community Academy’s fell from 21pc to 4pc.
At Sewell Park Academy, the vacancy rate fell from 60pc to 39pc this year.
A spokesperson for the school said the figure still did not “reflect the excitement developments” at the school, as it became a “centre for the community”.
The Hewett School was the result of a merger of Lakenham boys and girls secondary moderns and the Hewett Grammar School in 1970.
During the 1990s, it was one of the biggest schools in the county, with more than 2,000 pupils on its roll.
A turbulent period began in 2004, when the school was put in special measures, before being lifted back out two years later.
In 2011, Ofsted said the school was satisfactory - today’s requires improvement - with some good features, before it was judged good overall in 2013.
But in 2014, the watchdog returned, once again putting the school in special measures. An academy order was later issued and, despite huge community protest, the school became an academy, under the trust, in 2015.
Pupil numbers have fallen consistently - in 1998, government figures show there were 1,927 pupils, a figure which has fallen every year since except one.
The roll number as of January last year was 491.