Neatherd High School wants to continue with sixth form plan despite warning notice from council

The plan to split Dereham Sixth Form College provoked protests from students. Picture: Ian Burt

The plan to split Dereham Sixth Form College provoked protests from students. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

A Dereham high school is planning to go ahead with plans to set up its own sixth form, despite receiving a warning notice from Norfolk County Council that aims to stop it.

On Monday afternoon, Norfolk County Council issued Neatherd High School with a formal warning notice to prevent it splitting up Dereham Sixth Form College, which it has run jointly with Northgate High School, which is also in the town, since 1977.

However, email problems at County Hall meant the school did not receive a copy of the notice until the postman delivered a paper copy yesterday.

The notice gave Neatherd 10 working days to comply. If it does not, the council could take control of its finances and replace its governors.

Speaking after a meeting with governors yesterday afternoon, Neatherd head Peter Devonish said it intended to go ahead with its plans, but the warning notice had put things on hold - but would not delay the proposed September opening of the Neathered Sixth Form for incoming Year 12 students.


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He said an extraordinary meeting of governors next week would consider which points in the warning notice they would agree to, and which they would not.

In a message to parents, he said: 'We will take every opportunity to defend our case, making direct representations to the Department for Education, regarding the local authority's conduct. We are also seeking independent legal advice to that end.'

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Gordon Boyd, assistant director for education at the council, said: 'While there are ways the current sixth form in Dereham can be strengthened and improved, the council's view is this could be achieved in a much better way than setting aside existing arrangements altogether. Recent reviews confirm the sizeable sixth form is not only viable but is making good progress in tackling areas for improvement.'

The county council also sent a statement to parents and students of the two Dereham high schools, and the Dereham Sixth Form College, setting out its position, and saying it had 'a duty to intervene'.

Norfolk County Council's statement to parents and students

You will have heard today that Norfolk County Council has asked for plans to create a new sixth form college at Dereham Neatherd from this September to be stopped.

Norfolk County Council doesn't run schools in Norfolk – that is the responsibility of the individual headteachers and governors – but we do have a responsibility in law to champion the best interests of children by making sure schools or sixth forms have the capacity to provide a sustainable and appropriate standard of education for them.

Where there is a risk of an individual institution failing to be able to do this, we have a duty to intervene.

So our only priority in this situation is to make sure that students in Dereham have the best possible opportunities to learn and achieve their potential. And it is our view, shared by other organisations, that the proposal to create a separate sixth form at Dereham Neatherd will not offer the best opportunities to students now or in the future.

The current joint sixth form offers a wide variety of subjects which would be unlikely to be made available at two smaller, separate sixth forms, due to funding and staffing issues.

And while there are ways the current sixth form in Dereham can be strengthened and improved, the council's view is that this could be achieved in a much better way than setting aside existing arrangements altogether.

We've looked at various reviews of the existing Dereham Sixth Form College, and given the lack of detailed planning produced by Dereham Neatherd to create its own sixth form, we do not believe a case for such significant change has been made.

This is not our view alone. The Regional Schools Commissioner appointed by the Department for Education, and the Education Funding Authority – which controls funding of education – have similar concerns.

We do want to reassure current students, prospective students and parents and teachers that current Year 12s already at Dereham Sixth Form will continue their studies as planned into Year 13.

And once arrangements are finalised, current Year 11s who have applied to the proposed Neatherd Sixth Form will automatically be able to attend Dereham Sixth Form College instead, and will be able to take their prior choice of courses.

We have taken strong action today in asking for the plans to be stopped only because we believe it is in the best interests of the young people in Dereham.

We will continue to work with both schools for the good of all their students.

Please contact Dereham Sixth Form College or your own school to discuss further.

Do you have an education story? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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