Beccles Free School opens at Carlton Colville.

Picture: James Bass

Council agrees to stop monitoring Beccles Free School which is temporarily based at Carlton Colville

Friday, November 23, 2012
10.33 AM

Councillors at Waveney District Council agreed last night to stop scrutinising the controversial Beccles Free School which opened its doors in September at its temporary home for two years in Carlton Colville.

Waveney District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee voted that after exhausting all key lines of inquiry and influence into the free school decision process that no further action be taken.

The committee had started to fully scrutinise the free school bid by the Seckford Foundation in June amid fears of the school’s impact on the region.

As part of the scrutiny process the committee had asked Michael Gove, the secretary of state for education who has the power to set up free schools, to appear before it but he declined the offer by committee chairman Tod Sullivan.

However, after enlisting the support of Waveney MP Peter Aldous the committee did score a victory of sorts.

Last night’s meeting heard the chairman of the parliamentary education select committee Graham Stuart say Mr Aldous had made a “compelling case about the concerns the community” had about the Beccles Free School.

In a letter to Mr Aldous, Mr Stuart went on to say he would “add the process and criteria for approving free schools to the list of items that the select committee may consider in future”.

Mr Sullivan told the committee: “We have probably taken this as far as we can as a committee, but we can be proud of the work that we did.”

However Graham Elliott, of the Beccles North Ward, did say that the council should have explored the free school bid earlier when it was first brought to its attention in February.

At the time a full council meeting voted not to discuss the matter which had been raised by councillor Peter Byatt, and decided to have an extraordinary overview and scrutiny meeting in June.

Mr Elliott said: “We were far too late. It was very disappointing we had that delay.”

The Beccles Free School has been set up on the site of the former Carlton Colville Primary School for two years.

It will then move to the site of Beccles Middle School in 2014.

During its scrutiny process the committee quizzed the director of the Seckford Foundation Graham Watson and also questioned Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee about his views on the school bid process.

Last night’s committee also agreed to request Mr Aldous to keep Mr Sullivan updated as to whether the process and criteria and applying for free schools has been included on the parliamentary education select committee’s work programme.