Hunstanton school ‘could become unviable’ after sixth form closure, council warned

Smithdon High School Exterior ENGANL00120121217142029
Smithdon High School Exterior ENGANL00120121217142029
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A West Norfolk secondary school could become “unviable” once its sixth form department closes, community leaders have been warned.

The stark message was delivered as town councillors in Hunstanton met for the first time since the announcement earlier this month that Smithdon High School’s sixth form is to close.

Officials say the move, which will see no new sixth form students admitted after the current school year, is necessary because of the likelihood of additional funding cuts to the further education sector.

But, during a town council meeting last Friday, resident Robert Corby urged members to use their influence to help maintain the Downs Road site.

He said: “We have to take a big, big interest in what happens. It’s vital for the community. It’s vital for the life of the town.”

“It could very easily become an unviable school.”

The closure plan is part of the school’s move towards academy status, under the sponsorship of the West Norfolk Academies Trust, which is due to come into effect on December 1.

Earlier this month, the school’s current headteacher, Paul Marsh, announced he would be leaving at the end of November, before the academy conversion.

The sixth form decision means students who would otherwise have attended Smithdon will have to travel to the Springwood High School in Lynn in order to study A level courses, though current sixth formers will complete their programmes there.

The trust intends to concentrate sixth form provision there for all four of its member secondary schools, including St Clement’s High in Terrington St Clement and Marshland High School in West Walton, in what it maintains is a “cost-effective” approach.

A letter sent to the parents of Smithdon pupils explaining the decision said it was feared that further funding cuts would be imposed on post-16 provision on top of the 14 per cent reductions it said had been implemented since 2010.

But Mr Corby, who works as director of learning at the Alderman Peel High School in Wells-next-the-Sea, described the trust as “untested” and said the decision meant the school was now in a “precarious position.”

He added: “We should all be very, very concerned about what happens there. We have to influence the process.”

Mr Corby spoke out on the school’s future as he made his pitch to join the town council as a co-opted member.

Although he did not win one of the three avaliable seats, one of the successful candidates, Yvonne Bridger, also voiced concerns about the measure.

She highlighted the area’s transport limitations, especially for students who wanted to take part in extra-curricular activities, and wider issues about the potential future growth of the town.

She said: “We keep hearing the infrastructure isn’t an issue but it matters. Where are people going to send their children?”