The government came under fire last night from two senior Suffolk Conservatives over the way it has approved plans for Waveney’s first free school.

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Peter Aldous, Waveney MP, and Mark Bee, leader of Suffolk County Council, accused the Department for Education (DfE) of pushing through plans and ignoring its own advice after it gave the green light to set up the Beccles Free School next month.

Mr Aldous and Mr Bee made their remarks as they appeared before an extraordinary overview and scrutiny meeting of Waveney District Council.

Both Tories had been called to appear before the committee as members are exploring how the decision to set up the free school was made.

From September the Beccles Free School will temporarily set up home for two years on the site of the former Carlton Colville Primary School before relocating in 2014 to the site of Beccles Middle School.

Mr Aldous and Mr Bee have both opposed the free school plans and had lobbied the DfE to try to make it change its decision – which flew in the face of strong opposition in Beccles and surrounding areas.

They both feared the free school would impact on Beccles’s Sir John Leman High School and other schools in the district and they say there is no demand for it in the area.

However, Mr Aldous told the committee that he believed that the DfE had given permission to the free school as a way of supporting its flagship education policy to free up schools control from local authorities.

Mr Aldous, who had 13 meetings or representations with education ministers over the issue, said the government stance was: “We have got to stick to our guns on this one. We have got to stick it through”.

Mr Aldous summed up the mood in Beccles about the free school by saying “The overwhelming view is we don’t want the free school here, we want to make what we have got here work.”

Mr Bee told the committee that the free school should have been thrown out at stage one of the application process as the site of the Beccles Middle School was never going to be viable for next month’s opening.

He said it went against DfE time guidelines for setting up the school in Beccles in 2012, which the free school backers the Seckford Foundation had originally wanted.

Mr Bee also told the committee he would help members call the DfE into account in further meetings by saying: “We are more than happy to load your gun”.

It was also mentioned that Sir John Leman was investigating launching a possible judicial review against the Becces Free School process.

So far at least 64 pupils have signed up for the first school’s first year, which has a capacity for 162 places.

Last night’s meeting featured documents about the free school consultation process which saw 59pc of written responses of people in the Beccles area saying they did not support the plan.

10 comments

  • The SJLHS should welcome the Free School and recognise the supreme sacrifice parents have made donating their children to this educational experiment rather. Just think, we could be at the dawn of a great educational venture leading to huge improvements in educational outcome. Well done to all involved, and good luck to the SJHLS and the new Free School.

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    Rhombus

    Thursday, August 9, 2012

  • In part, inducements, perhaps? For example, I am well aware of the price difference 'twixt school uniforms charged and those that are free, and I don't agree with that (they should all be charged or all be free). It is also unlikely that the Seckford publicity and recruitment drive (paid from public funds) has failed to have any effect whatsoever. I expect that the running-down of SJLHS has also succeeded in altering some perceptions and choices. The FS cannot, despite ads, and the rest, have enough popularity to justify the experiment, for that is what it is; else the numbers should be more than 64. I suppose sending a child to any school is a gamble. I went to public school , but I gambled on sending my son to SJLHS.

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    T Doff

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

  • The truth will, in time, emerge from under its coat of whitewash.

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    T Doff

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

  • I suppose the DfE refusal to provide any FOI requested information on this is entirely transparent? By the way, you can't libel "The Government", and who are you to say whether I am pro- or anti-Government, as I said nothing of the sort.

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    T Doff

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

  • The application has been approved, so those opposed to it are just going to have to 'suck it up'! No doubt if the current provision is already good enough (presumably the position of those opposed to the establishment of a competitor) then no one will send their children to the free school and it will fail. On the other hand... maybe some people want an alternative choice and if it works out for them and their children flourish there, then good luck to them. Time spent wishing permission hadn't been given is time wasted, but if it makes people feel better to meet up and feel aggrieved then good luck to them too!

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    a fine city

    Friday, August 10, 2012

  • @SideshowBob - "Why are the parents of at least 64 children prepared to gamble with their education?" This is merely anecdotal I know, but, the one parent I know who is proposing to send her child to the Free School is doing it on the basis that there won't be any 'oiks' there and so private school fees can be avoided! (I'm not a friend of this individual or a supporter of the Free School by the way.)

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    point du jour

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

  • T Doff - what proof do you have that this Free School approval was in any way a 'whitewash'? The Stoke By Nayland Free School application has been rejected twice, and if the DfE was approving each and every application regardless of its merits purely for political reasons, surely that wouldn't have happened. As someone who was involved in a Free School bid and knows how much information you need to supply to satisfy the DfE, I'm just curious to know what solid evidence you have for this accusation of a Dept for Education whitewash. Or is it just a libellous anti-Government comment?

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    SideshowBob

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

  • Oh, and to answer your question, the DfE have explained that release of the requested information is prohibited under s36 of the Freedom of Information Act. I believe the Treasury Solicitor has since provided Sir John Leman with a very detailed answer to their questions concerning due diligence and impact assessments.

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    SideshowBob

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

  • Such a shame that the Tories blocked the original motion questioning the Free School process months ago at Full Council, so delaying any real action that could have been taken...now I wonder why they did that? lol

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    Dogberry

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

  • The 'libel' bit was a swipe at the moderator of this site, who seems to have an agenda on this subject. He will know what I mean. As this paper doesn't appear to want this posted as a statement, I'll ask it to you as a question. If Sir John Leman and surrounding schools are apparently so good, why are the parents of at least 64 children prepared to gamble with their education by sending them to an untried, untested school based in a temporary building, rather than taking the safe option of the existing schools?

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    SideshowBob

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

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