As the new term began for thousands of pupils yesterday, figures show hundreds of West Norfolk secondary school places remain unfilled.
Across the 11 secondary schools serving the area, a total of 433 year seven places are empty at the start of the new academic year, around 21 per cent of the total.
The biggest shortfall is at the Smithdon High School in Hunstanton, where exactly half of the 210 available places have not been taken up.
But Paul Marsh, the school’s new head, believes the progress made at the school in recent times will begin to reverse that trend.
He pointed to the school’s latest “good” Ofsted rating and strong A-level results, which were announced last month as evidence of why parents should be encouraged to send their children there.
He said: “You really can achieve here and I think people will see that and make this their school of choice, providing geographically it makes sense.”
Four other schools, the Iceni Academy in Methwold, the King’s Lynn Academy, the Fakenham Academy and the Nicholas Hamond Academy in Swaffham, also have particularly high proportions of empty places, running at 28, 34, 38 and 44 per cent respectively.
The numbers of places taken at those schools have fallen slightly this year, compared to 2013.
Richard Snowden, head of Norfolk County Council’s schools admission service, said the trends were influenced by changes in population statistics from year to year.
But he said longer-term perceptions of a school’s reputation, rather than latest exam or inspection results, were also a factor.
Although the proportion of empty places across the borough has fallen slightly compared to last year, the figures show that only two of West Norfolk’s secondaries, the King Edward VII School in Lynn and the Marshland High School in West Walton, have a full year seven this year.
One other, the Springwood High School, has one available place, while three are vacant at the Litcham school.
Elsewhere, two extra places are filled at St Clement’s High School in Terrington St Clement compared to last year, leaving 21 vacancies out of a maximum year group of 130.
And the number of occupied places at the Downham Academy has increased by 12 this year, leaving 20 per cent of its 270 year seven places empty.