Only 37 pupils have signed up to a controversial Beccles free school in north Suffolk it was revealed yesterday.

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The Seckford Foundation said only 37 out of 162 places had been filled for its temporary free school at Carlton Colville, near Lowestoft, which is due to open its doors in September before moving to Beccles in 2014.

Last night the low uptake was discussed at Waveney District Council’s extraordinary overview and scrutiny committee meeting.

And as members questioned Graham Watson, the director of the Seckford Foundation, there were claims pupils were being induced to sign up to the school by being offered free school uniforms, free meals and “mobile technology”.

Members also queried the foundation’s claims there was a strong demand for the free school in the area and decided to ask Department for Education (DfE) officials to provide all details of the organisation’s successful bid, which was approved by the government on June 1 – despite strong opposition in the areas to the scheme. Mr Watson said he hoped that 106 pupils would sign up for the free school’s first year at the site of the former Carlton Colville Primary School, then numbers could climb to 216 in its second year before moving to the site of Beccles Middle School where more pupils would join.

Mr Watson said: “It is not unusual for a free school to have a slow uptake. We expect numbers to increase. The school was viable with 106 pupils in it.”

When asked by Beccles councillor Graham Elliott about concerns over inducements being made to pupils to sign up, Mr Watson replied: “The suggestion it is an inducement is wrong.”

The meeting heard there were concerns over the Seckford Foundation’s consultation over the free school, which showed there was demand for it.

At one point a consultation session was held in a Carlton Colville newsagent with only two days’ publicity to promote, it was claimed.

Peter Byatt, councillor for Pakefield, said that out of 10,500 households sent consultation details only 49 had responded positively to the plans.

The meeting heard there was strong opposition with fears the free school will impact on other schools and a skills centre in the region.

Mr Byatt said; “We need to see what the Seckford Foundation submitted to the DfE.

“I can’t see why it can’t be in the public domain.”

The committee agreed to invite a DfE representative before committee members to discuss the free school bid process.

anthony.carroll@archant.co.uk

12 comments

  • The fact that the school has to set up in a primary school setting in another town is a huge factor in the take up. We would have sent our son to the school had it been in Beccles and I know I am not the only one who feels that way. It would be good to have choice in Beccles, surely a bit of friendly competition can only make Leman a better school? Leman is huge and doesn't suit all children, in beccles we don't have much options, bungay is oversubscribed and we don't have much chance of getting our kids into Hobart either. I will be pleased to have the option of sending my child to another school in beccles if the Leman fails to meet all the promises it has made to us parents in the next two years, I just hope after all the head's ranting that he can live up to what he has promised!

    Report this comment

    BBCgirl

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

  • Becclesboy, are you able to substantiate your claims of misinformation and untruths by the "anti" brigade? Most of what I've seen has been coherent, logical argument. The Seckford Foundation has never deigned to reply directly, but it has not been entirely silent. It consistently makes two claims: (1) that their interest in Beccles only arose because the community wanted them, and (2) an additional high school would give Beccles more choice. Both are demonstrably untrue. (1) just look at the numbers and (2) because two smaller high schools offering a reduced curriculum is actually a reduction in choice. And this fear of repercussions? Does that exist anywhere apart from your own vivid imagination? I'd have thought that any true free school devotee would be bold enough to stick to his or her principles. Finally to bemoan "all the politicking" is a bit rich isn't it? Who actually started it all? Who has carried it on? Could the political ideology of Mr Michael Gove possibly be at the root of all this? At least we are agreed on one thing: the education of the students is all important. Despite all these unwanted side issues SJLHS has been doing its utmost to ensure their future and that of the next generations.

    Report this comment

    Lord Egg Nog

    Friday, June 29, 2012

  • Now that Suffolk County Council has a school on its 'books' with a huge number of surplus places (263?), will it use it as a dumping ground for all its problem pupils? A referral unit in disguise? Let's see if the John Leman starts having a mass clean up next school year.

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    Rhombus

    Friday, June 29, 2012

  • I am bored senseless with jeremy rowe's vitriolic abuse and campaign against the beccles free school. the fact of the matter is HIS school has a poor reputation along with all the others in the area bar one school - bungay. if you send your child to jeremy's school, they have less that a 50% chance of leaving with 5 good gcse's (source: bbc website league tables). THIS IS HORRENDOUS! jeremy always skirts around this little chesnut. his figures are going to get worse too with the government stopping schools like his claiming equivilent qualifications in haridressing and bricklaying which ARE NOT GCSE EQUIVILENT! therefore, you could argue john lehman is a failing school. therefore, every parent in the beccles district has every right to object to sending their child to jeremy. if anything, the fact a free school has been established is a massive vote of no confidence to him and maybe he should consider resigning? also, it would be interesting for jeremy to be transparent how much money he wrangled for becoming an academy and how this money is being used to raise standards at the school as clearly its not currently working. in conclusion, i have every faith in the seckford foundation. our county needs more education professionsals like them to raise our particularly poor standards so prevalent in so many schools in this area. good luck and god bless beccles free school.

    Report this comment

    damon7

    Friday, June 29, 2012

  • Ingo – Spelling was obviously not a priority at the “excellent” school you attended. Unfortunately The Seckford Foundation are the architects of their own downfall, whilst the “Anti” brigade have been peddling their misinformation and untruths TSF have been conspicuous by their silence. Unfortunately this has resulted in many parents and children feeling afraid to back the Free School for fear of repercussions from other parents and children. Children and their education are the one thing that has been forgotten in all the politicking surrounding this situation.

    Report this comment

    becclesboy

    Friday, June 29, 2012

  • I am sure there wil be a number of students for whom a fresh start in such a positive environment will be most apprpopriate to avoid them being excluded. It will be interesting to see how "free" the new school's entry policy will be then. I am not against free schools in principle but this one is a total waste of our money.. Suffolk have made a complete cock up of reorgansisation and left themsleves open to idiotic ventures like this one.

    Report this comment

    Pondlife

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

  • How much money has been wasted on this ridiculous scheme now?? We never needed, or wanted a free school!! Our children are happy and established in their current schools. What a Tory induced mess!!

    Report this comment

    Ian

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

  • Quite frankly this is a disgraceful use of our money to quench Mr Gove's insatiable political appetite for Free Schools and Academies.

    Report this comment

    Sportswagon

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

  • What happened to that thinly disguised threat that pupils attending free schools will not have equal entitlement with their state school peers regarding free school transport. I wonder if the threat effected the parents choice of school.

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    Rhombus

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

  • The regulation says that it takes 100 signatories to ask for a free school, that should be 100 school children, because you can gather 100 signatures in a day. This school is not viable and should not get funding from the taxpayer to the detriment of the exiosting schools who are doing an excellent job already.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

  • As someone who's been involved in setting up a Free School elsewhere, it seems very strange that uptake is so low. We had to satisfy the DfE of reasonable demand for the application to succeed, so something seems very wrong here. Maybe the temporary base at Carlton Coleville has had a significant effect. I also personally don't see the point of another school in Beccles, whereas our application was due to there being no alternative secondary education within our town.

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    SideshowBob

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

  • Graham Watson confirmed that the school is offering free items of uniform, free schol lunches for half a term and possible some mobile device. He just claims that these aren't an "inducement". Call them what you will...

    Report this comment

    onlygeek

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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