Photo gallery: Jane Austen College becomes Norfolk’s newest free school

PUBLISHED: 09:49 09 September 2014 | UPDATED: 09:49 09 September 2014

First day at the Jane Austen college in the centre of Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

First day at the Jane Austen college in the centre of Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2014

An old shoe factory has found a new lease of life as the home of Norfolk’s newest free school.

Did Norwich need a new school?

Last week, Year 7 admission figures for Norfolk secondary schools for 2014-15 revealed there were more than 1,600 spare places across the county, prompting some to question whether the new free school in Norwich was justified.

It was one of the questions raised by the National Union of Teachers during a consultation on the school.

Ms Heald 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.”

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.

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.”

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.

First day at the Jane Austen college in the centre of Norwich. Photo: Bill SmithFirst day at the Jane Austen college in the centre of Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

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.

Principal Claire Heald  at the Jane Austen college in the centre of Norwich. Photo: Bill SmithPrincipal Claire Heald at the Jane Austen college in the centre of Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

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.

What do you think? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email

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