Hundreds of unfilled places at high schools across Norfolk and Suffolk
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Nearly two dozen high schools in our region are set to start the new academic year with more than a quarter of places for new pupils unfilled.
The figures, from Norfolk and Suffolk county councils, show four secondary schools have so far failed to fill more than half the places on offer to Year 7 pupils starting in September.
In total there are 1,502 unfilled places in Norfolk, and 1,238 in Suffolk.
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However, a Norfolk County Council spokesman said pupils entering Year 7 had increased by 2.5pc since 2014, with more than 1,000 extra children expected over the next five years.
Across the whole of Norfolk and Suffolk, 29 schools will have a full set of Year 7 pupils, but others are suffering from either local demographics trends, or are battling to overcome poor performance in recent years.
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Two Norwich high schools - Sewell Park College and the Hewett School - have the highest vacancy rates in Norfolk.
Both 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.
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.
In Suffolk, East Point Academy in Lowestoft has offered places to 64 Year 7 pupils, compared to its published admission number of 240 pupils, giving it a 73pc vacancy rate.
Last summer, 32pc of pupils achieved the government's gold standard of five GCSEs, including English and maths, at grades A*-C - the second year it fell below the government's 40pc target.
Since then, the academy has transferred to a new sponsor, the Inspiration Trust, and last month was taken out of special measures.
And while Sewell Park, the Hewett and East Point are struggling with student recruitment, Hellesdon High is planning to increase its planned admission number for 2016-17, 'in line with the school's growing popularity'.
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