Photo gallery: Jane Austen College becomes Norfolk’s newest free school
An old shoe factory has found a new lease of life as the home of Norfolk's newest free school.
The Jane Austen College, part of the Inspiration Trust chain of academies and free schools, opened in the five-storey former Howlett and White building on Colegate in Norwich.
The pioneering set of 140 Year 7 student at the college, which has a specialism in English, studied their first lessons at the school yesterday, after their introductions and orientations last Friday.
The college also has 50 sixth form students, who are linked the Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form, another Inspiration Trust free school in Norwich, which specialises in maths and sciences.
Frankie Lubbock, 12, from Norwich, said she was 'really excited' about starting her high school career at the new college.
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She said: 'I wanted to come to the school because I love the idea of electives. I would also prefer to have a teacher to ask if I'm struggling with my homework, rather than ask my mum who might not know.'
James Fiddy, 11, also from Norwich, said: 'I just liked the whole idea of it. I like the idea of doing homework in school, so I get more time to see my family, which is good.'
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The college's most eye-catching feature is its large assembly room, created from what was originally a courtyard between factory buildings, and enclosed with a glass roof by later occupants.
It includes the brick factory chimney.
The college has retained many other original features of the factory, including wooden beams in the roof of classrooms, and many large classroom windows.
Phase one of the building conversion has been completed as planned, with enough of the building ready for pupils to use. Phase two should see the rest of the building handed over in March next year.
Its previous occupants, Aviva, moved out in March.
Claire Heald, who is based at Jane Austen as principal but is also executive principal of Sir Isaac, said it was a privilege to be trusted with the college's pupils.
She said: 'Seeing students in the classroom is amazing. They really appreciate it. We have been really clear when we talk to them and parents what our vision is. We have got a school community of children and parents who really buy into it.'
Asked about challenges during the college's gestation, she said: 'The challenge is always recruiting students and convincing parents that this is the school to send their child to when it does not exist and they have nothing to go on.'
When Ms Heald was first announced as principal, the college hit headlines locally and nationally for its policy of not asking children to take work home, but instead having an extended day with pupils doing homework at the school.
The school's hours are 9am to 4.30pm on Monday and Friday, and 9am to 5.30pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with pupils doing elective subjects, such as football, rugby and debating, in the last hour of the mid-week timetables.
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