Rural Norfolk schools have up to 90pc of reception places for September empty, admissions data shows - how did yours fare?

Pupils in a primary school lesson. Picture: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

Pupils in a primary school lesson. Picture: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Twenty-five rural schools in Norfolk have filled fewer than half of their reception class places, figures show.

The data for reception class admissions this September reveals that, in total, 57 primary and infant schools will have a third or more of their places vacant at the start of the school year.

And the numbers reveal a clear divide in demand - while schools in small villages are struggling to attract pupils, those in or near built-up communities such as Norwich, Wymondham, Hethersett and Thetford have waiting lists.

With funding for schools largely driven by pupil numbers, protecting the future of the county's particularly small schools has long been a concern for education chiefs.

Across Norfolk, there were 11.1pc spare places for reception classes in September, though Norfolk County Council expects this figure to drop in the coming months.

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At Hindringham Primary School, in Fakenham, its 90pc vacancy rate is the highest in Norfolk, and means just one pupil will start reception in September out of a potential class of 10.

Pilgrim Federation executive headteacher Mary Dolan. Picture: Ian Burt

Pilgrim Federation executive headteacher Mary Dolan. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

The school is part of the Pilgrim Federation, which, four years ago, saw Hindringham, Kelling, Walsingham and Blakeney Primary Schools, all of which will have empty places in September, join forces.

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Executive headteacher Mary Dolan said the partnership - which sees them share a headteacher and deputy, as well as resources - kept the schools' futures sustainable.

'We would be very surprised if we got 10 children in any one year,' she said, 'but one pupil is particularly low.

'We aren't worried - being a federation means we stand together, giving us strength and making us sustainable.

'Our intake fluctuates throughout the year, so that number could change, but because we are federation it isn't a problem - if we were on our own, we would probably be worried.'

Co-operation is a common theme - the schools with the 10 highest vacancy rates are either in a federation or part of an academy trust.

They include Sedgeford Primary, near Hunstanton, which filled a third of its places - three out of nine pupils.

Sarah Bocking, executive headteacher of the St Mary Federation, said: 'The figure is normal for our school - we get a maximum of about five pupils each year, and that is a maximum.

'Being part of a federation widens children's experience, benefits staff and of course saves money. Being in a small school, you have always got that axe hanging over you, but we are certainly viable and being part of a federation does help that.'

Two of the schools in the top 10 highest vacancy rates - Colkirk Primary Academy and St Andrew's Primary Academy in North Pickenham - are part of the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT).

Sarah Bocking, executive headteacher of the St Mary Federation. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Sarah Bocking, executive headteacher of the St Mary Federation. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

A spokesperson for the trust said: 'Many of our academies are in rural communities where the numbers of primary school aged children is unpredictable.

'To enable smaller schools to continue providing a good educational experience, groups of schools are often working together in federations under the leadership of one executive headteacher and governing body. With funding calculated using pupil numbers it is important that planned admission numbers are achieved.'

Schools Forum says rural schools should not be overlooked

Norfolk's Schools Forum has told the government its proposed funding formula overlooks rural schools.

Executive head of the Pilgrim Federation Mary Dolan with pupils from the four schools. Pictured when

Executive head of the Pilgrim Federation Mary Dolan with pupils from the four schools. Pictured when the federation was launched in 2013. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The body - set up by Norfolk County Council and made up of teachers, heads and governors - has published its response to the second consultation on the government's national funding formula, ahead of a meeting on Friday.

The formula seeks to overhaul school funding and ministers say it will be fairer.

But Sally Cutting, responding for the forum, said it 'discounts local and geographical factors' and is pupil-led - penalising schools with small roll numbers.

'We are concerned the new national funding formula does not in anyway take into account the funding shortfall in real terms... It is all very well saying schools need to make efficiencies, but in small schools, where 75pc of costs are staffing costs, there are only so many efficiencies that can be made.

'This is still an urban formula, that benefits those schools with lots of pupils.'

Consultation results are due in July.

What do the figures show?

In total, 152 of the 312 primary schools on the list had vacancies - just under half.

Of the remaining 160 that were either full or oversubscribed, 107 had waiting lists.

The largest reception intake in Norfolk is at Recreation Road Infant School, with 120 places, while the joint smallest is at Hapton and Marsham Primaries, which both take in six.

The schools with the five highest vacancy rates as a percentage were Hindringham Primary School with 90pc (one of 10 places filled), Rockland St Mary Primary on 83.3pc (two out of 12), Beeston Primary School on 83.3pc (two out of 12), Hickling Infant School on 80pc (three out of 15) and Erpingham Primary School on 75pc (two out of eight).

Conversely, the five longest waiting lists were Wymondham's Ashleigh Primary and Nursery, with 36 pupils hoping for a spot, Recreation Road Infant School in Norwich, 31, St William's Primary in Thorpe St Andrew, 31, Browick Road Primary in Wymondham, 29, and Hillside Primary School in Thorpe St Andrew on 28.

Divide between the rural and the urban

While rural villages might struggle to keep up numbers, places are in high demand in greater Norwich communities.

Ashleigh Primary and Nursery School in Wymondham recorded the biggest waiting list in Norfolk, which, having filled all 60 spots, reached 36 children.

And there was little space nearby - Browick Road Primary had a waiting list of 29, on top of the 30 spots already filled, and Robert Kett had just one of its 90 spaces empty.

Nearby Spooner Row Primary had eight pupils waiting, and Hethersett Woodside Infant and Nursery, having taken an extra two children above its planned 60, had a seven-strong waiting list.

The council says there has been a 28pc increase in the number of reception places required since 2007, but that it has a blueprint to deliver extra spots to cope with incoming development.

Primary places in Norwich were outweighed by demand, with Recreation Road Infant, St William's Primary, Magdalen Gates Primary, Bignold Primary, Mile Cross Primary, Colman Infant, St Francis of Assisi, the Free School Norwich, Lakenham Primary and Cecil Gowing Infant in Sprowston all recording a waiting list of more than 10 pupils.

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