By RICHARD WOOD
Thursday, September 6, 2012
A controversial new free school in Waveney has opened its doors for the first time this morning.
Beccles Free School has opened at the former Carlton Colville Primary School, after months of debate and arguments about the proposal.
The free school, opened by the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, has made national headlines after securing funding from the Department for Education, despite a vocal campaign against it.
However this morning a register of 68 pupils in years 7, 8 and 9 were welcomed by their new teachers, while protestors lined up outside to hold a silent protest against the decision to approve it.
Graham Watson, director of the Seckford Foundation, said: “I am absolutely thrilled and delighted that this day has come to give young people a very good opportunity in education.”
When asked about accusations from campaigners that the school was a “waste of money”, he said: “Suffolk has been an under performing county for many years and something needed to happen to raise standards.
“We believe what we are offering will help to do that.”
He added that the vocal campaign against the school had made them “more determined to succeed.”
Headteacher John Lucas said he was proud of the vision for the school and happy with his “strong, dedicated team” of teachers.
“I was drawn by the vision and the opportunity to work from scratch with the students,” he said.
“The vision and ethos for the school is a strong academic curriculum, with excellent, enriching pastoral care.”
A vocal campaign has been run against the school, with opponents calling it a waste of public money.
Students at the school are given a free uniform, free bus journeys from Beccles to Carlton Colville, a free hand-held mobile device for homework, and free lunches until Christmas.
Frank Joyce, secretary of Lowestoft Coalition against the Cuts, said: “The funding of this school by the Department for Education is a scandal.
“It is not wanted, it is not needed and can only do permanent damage to the education of children in Beccles, Lowestoft and the surrounding areas.
“It is an outrageous waste of public money when other schools and public services are facing cuts and closures.”
Others to speak out previously against the free school have been Mark Bee, the county councillor for Beccles, and Waveney MP Peter Aldous.
This continued last week as shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg claimed that £2m has been spent on the free school for Beccles, with at least £2.3m spent on free schools which are either not opening or lacking support
However, the government refuted the accusations, calling the figures “grossly exaggerated” while a spokesman for the Department for Education said that free schools were proving “overwhelmingly popular with parents” and that Beccles Free School was offering to “drive up standards and provide greater opportunity and choice for local parents and children”.
While this week the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust has been told that it cannot claim to be “outstanding” before it has even opened.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has told the Trust to remove the word from its adverts, following complaints from campaigner James Hargrave.
Mr Hargrave told the ASA that by presenting itself as “outstanding”, people could interpret that the school had been given the highest Ofsted rating, even though it has yet to be inspected.
For more on the story check back on the website later and see tomorrow’s papers.