Neatherd head demands meeting over council opposition to Dereham Sixth Form split

Dereham Sixth Form College. Picture: Ian Burt

Dereham Sixth Form College. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The head of Neatherd High School has demanded meetings with senior council figures after they voiced opposition to plans to split up Dereham Sixth Form College.

Both Michael Rosen, executive director of children's services at Norfolk County Council, and James Joyce, chairman of the children's services committee, told a meeting of the committee on Tuesday that they supported a single sixth form in the town.

It was the first time the council has publicly opposed Neatherd's proposal, which it announced last month, to set up its own sixth form, separate from Dereham Sixth Form College, which it has run in partnership with Northgate High School since 1977.

Neatherd headteacher Peter Devonish said yesterday that meetings with Mr Joyce and Mr Rosen were being organised with a facilitator, Tim Newton, who the council has appointed to liaise between the two schools.

Mr Devonish, who was not at the county council meeting, said: 'I'm hugely disappointed to hear some of the negative, uninformed comments we are hearing out there.

'People need to speak to us and hear how fantastic it feels inside the school.'

Neatherd High School said about 90 of its current Year 11 pupils had committed to joining its sixth form next September, including 12 existing Neatherd pupils who had previously planned to study elsewhere.

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In a letter sent to Year 12 and prospective Year 12 students yesterday, Northgate High and Dereham Sixth Form College said 150 students had formally accepted places to start at the sixth form in September, with 'only eight withdrawals'. More than 100 other pupils had yet to respond to offers.

It added: 'Our plans now, in the short term, are to continue to deliver the courses for the current Year 12/13 and those offered to Year 11 applicants and, in the medium and longer term, to enhance the range, sustainability and quality of post-16 education in Dereham and mid-Norfolk.'

The split was raised as an urgent item at Tuesday's meeting, where Mr Joyce said: 'Looking from the outside, it seems to be about two governing bodies arguing about themselves and forgetting what they are there for, which is the children.'

Other councillors raised concerns about the long term viability of two sixth forms in the town, highlighting problems other schools faced recruiting teachers in key subjects like maths and science.

Mr Devonish said it would be economically viable to have two sixth forms in the town, but added 'the devil will be in the detail.'

He said separate sixth forms would enable the two high schools and the current sixth form to avoid the current duplication of some posts, and said population growth would mean there would be more students in the area.

Asked about the viability of two sixth forms in Dereham, Northgate head Glyn Hambling said: 'I have absolutely no idea, because I don't know what the numbers are. At the end of the day, we have one sixth form in Dereham, and we are maintaining that sixth form.

'If another organisation wishes to choose to move, everyone is entitled to do their own thing. Those organisations are responsible for whether they can make it viable or not. That's a decision they have to make through due diligence.'

Mr Devonish announced next year's Year 12 students at Neatherd's sixth form would be based on Neatherd's site, with its current music block being converted into a sixth form centre with a common room and library.

He said the longer term future of the Dereham Sixth Form College site was a matter for discussion.

He also said Neatherd's sixth form would bring back French, government and politics, and classics next year, and, although no-one had applied for music or textiles next year, it could bring these back in future years.

The school also started advertising for a new position of head of physics as it sets up the new sixth form. He added that the school would advertising internally for a head of sixth form after the Easter holiday.

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