Free school plan for Beccles

Sunday, December 12, 2010
5:13 PM

Parents in Beccles are bidding to set up their own free school to serve up to 600 pupils aged between 11 and 16.

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The new high school could open in September 2012 if the plans get the go-ahead.

The idea is the brainchild of a group of parents of youngsters at Beccles Middle School, which is set to close under Suffolk County Council’s reorganisation of schools.

The Beccles Free School Project Group is in the preliminary stages of inquiries, but representatives say the feedback received so far has been very positive.

Under government arrangements new state-funded schools can be established in response to parental demand. Free schools are funded directly from central government and are the subject of Ofsted inspections but have freedom from local authority control. A free school is also planned for Norwich by a separate group.

Beccles already has the Sir John Leman High School but the group says the new facility, on the site of middle school, would provide parents with a choice.

They say it would also respond to concerns from parents and teachers in Beccles and south Lowestoft over the transitional arrangements under the school organisation review.

Father-of-two Aidan McHugh is one of the parents involved. He said: “There appears to be a significant demand for having extra high school capacity within this area and it will give parents a choice.

“There is a danger that kids caught up in the school organisation review programme are going to have their education compromised. We are adamant that will not happen.”

Mr McHugh added: “It is almost identical to the way that every other school works, but setting up a free school requires commitment and demand from parents. We are trying to get a debate going with the community to see what are people’s thoughts and feelings.”

He said the school would be an “exceptional facility” and would “set extremely high standards”. It would welcome students of all abilities.

Mr McHugh said the group will consult local people before submitting a formal proposal to the secretary of state.

“At the middle school we believe we have a really great school and we want to continue the same philosophy,” he said.

“One of the comments made by the last senior Ofsted inspector was that if she was to come back in three years time she expected us to be an outstanding school. “We want to make sure education in Beccles is of outstandingly high quality in the future – that is really our philosophy.”

The group has registered with the New Schools Network, a charitable organisation set up to promote new schools supported by parents, and it plans to arrange a series of consultation meetings to discuss the new school plans.

The group would like people to email their views and comments on the plans to freeschoolbeccles@gmail.com

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