A BRENTWOOD school has insisted it will not have to close despite only managing to fill less than half of its available places in its latest intake.
Brentwood County High School’s chief executive has pledged there will not be a return of the situation that saw the end of Sawyers Hall College – despite managing to attract just 100 students in September.
The school, which was given a ‘requires improvement’ rating by Ofsted in June 2017, has been run by Osborne Academy Trust since September 2017.
Despite making offers to 117 students, the school says it was disappointed that even fewer students started, but added it had already started making good improvements and received “lots and lots of interest” from parents at its recent open day.
It has the potential to take on up to 210 students, meaning it only managed to fill just under 48 per cent of its places.
Its poor popularity is in stark contrast to the other secondary schools in Brentwood which all managed to fill their maximum quota.
Osborne chief executive Paul Griffiths said: “Our numbers are slightly down, on what we anticipated.
“With improved results and increased numbers of local primary schools we anticipate growth in numbers over the next few years.
“There is no doubt that we feel it is proven that you look at the primary schools and how many are coming through.
“There are more children on offer to all the secondary schools in the next few years.
“Indeed they are expanding some of the primary schools to cater for that.
“There are significant building programmes being offered within the Brentwood area.
“There will be a need for all these schools. It is not going to be another Sawyers Hall College.”
Sawyers Hall College closed in 2012 in the face of falling numbers – by the time its closure was announced in 2009 just 13 per cent of its Year 7 quota was filled.
In the same year Brentwood County High School filled its maximum quota of 243.
Since then two free schools – Becket Keys on the site of Sawyers Hall College and The Ongar Academy – have been set up offering 270 places between them.
Mr Griffiths added that results and attainment are both up.
He said: “The results were better than anyone would have predicted but when the parents made their choices we were in the situation where we had a ‘requires improvement’ inspection.
“And when you have an RI and the head leaves you are obviously in a situation where people think “oh dear”.
“However, because Brentwood County High joined our Trust in September the Ofsted is null and void. It is now in a situation whereby it gets a fresh start.
“So we put in fresh leadership and what we have got is a fantastic set of A-level results.
“The attainment has gone up within the GSCSE results and the progress has massively improved to the expected level.”
The chief executive maintained that the school was “on the right track”.
“This year we have gone though a very successful open day and we have lots and lots of parents showing an interest,” he added.
“What happens when you have a bit of bad news, particularly when parents have got choice, is they can reconsider.
“But I am absolutely confident that we are in a situation whereby we will be able to compete on an equal footing, from now.”
He said that every time The Osborne Trust has taken on a school it has received a good Ofsted result at the first opportunity.
“We have a track record that goes before us,” he added.
“What we are about is improving results, improving behaviour and parents want a safe, good school.
“In the end parents will make up their mind which is the school they want to send their children to.
“And we believe we have a recipe for success that will say ‘send your children to BCHS because it’s going to be a great school’.
The school has been earmarked for central funding to further boost its future.
Mr Griffiths added: “And the DfE has shown faith in the future they came to the school (on Tuesday) to say they are planning to refurbish the very beautiful main building and rebuild the 1970s buildings.
“So there will be an investment in the school.
“The envelope of funding is in the hands of the department. But I promise you the Trust will not be given a penny.
“The money will be directed so the school itself won’t have the money – it will have the building.”
Brentwood County High’s struggles are in stark contrast to all the other schools in Brentwood and surrounding areas.
Becket Keys Church of England School offered 175 places for the latest academic year and had a waiting list of 91 places.
And St Martin’s School offered 292 places and had a waiting list of 96 places, while Brentwood Ursuline Convent High School offered 175 places and had a waiting list of 28 places.
Shenfield High School has experienced a huge surge in popularity, with more pupils than ever selecting it as their preferred choice of secondary school.
The school filled all 240 places available this year.
Carol Herman said: “We took a long hard look. All schools want to do the best by all of their students in term of outcomes.
“We have some real strengths in performing arts and sport but we have made a virtue of the fact that we are not going to narrow our curriculum.”
She added: “Government policy has been until recently focused in the setting up of free schools where they were required and not necessarily to take full account of the number of places already available.
“That has changed relatively recently but not until after two schools were set up where the precise numbers didn’t necessarily demand them but the parental interest – in the case of Becket Keys having a church-based school and in the case of The Ongar Academy having a new school (in an area) that had lost a school a couple of decades previously.
“There are rationale for each of the schools being set up but one of the key issues is where is the oversight of the number of places in a particular area that are required in era when schools are their own admissions authorities and can set up their own admission codes to attract students to what they are offering?”
Further afield the Anglo-European School in Ingatestone offered 210 places and had a waiting list of 51 places and The Ongar Academy – now in its fourth year of existence since opening in 2015 – offered 120 places, with 33 on its waiting list.