Appeal to reconsider plans for free school for Beccles and Carlton Colville

An MP and a council leader have urged the backers of a controversial north Suffolk free school to reconsider its plans.

As reported earlier in the week, only 37 pupils have so far signed up for a free school at Carlton Colville, near Lowestoft, which is due to open in September for two years before relocating to Beccles.

The figure means that less than a quarter of the Beccles Free School's places are filled at the moment for its first year.

Because of the low uptake, Waveney MP Peter Aldous and Mark Bee, leader of Suffolk County Council, are asking the organisation behind the free school, the Seckford Foundation, and the Department of Education, which approved the scheme in June, to review the plans.

The two politicians say the foundation should consider relocating the free school further south to Saxmundham, where it also has permission to open one.

Mr Aldous said: 'One of my concerns has been the limited demand and the figures released showing only 37 places supports this view. It would appear appropriate for the Seckford Foundation to explore the possibility of a consolidated free school at the Saxmundham site and I would urge them to give this option full consideration.'

Mr Bee said :'The county council welcome varied education provision, including free schools, where they support our aim of raising levels of achievement for the young people of Suffolk.

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'With only 37 places allocated across three year groups the school will be too small to make it viable.

'It may be that the proposed period of temporary location at Carlton Colville has been a factor in discouraging applications.

'This temporary location would also require significant investment to ensure buildings are fit for purpose, only for the school to move in two years time to its permanent home, the site of Beccles Middle School.

'At a time of reduced budgets, this additional expenditure for places which are not needed does not represent best value for money.

'One option would be to have a consolidated free school at the Saxmundham site. If it was successful it could expand onto the Beccles Middle School site when it becomes available or remain in Saxmundham.

'The county council would assist with this proposal if it was agreed by the Department of Education.

'We have been consistent in our view that the opening of the free school in Beccles should be delayed until 2014, when it could be located on the current Beccles Middle School site.

'In light of the numbers of young people that have applied to start at the school from September 2012 I would urge the Department for Education to reconsider the current proposals.'

Graham Watson, director of The Seckford Foundation, said: 'We continue to remain committed to providing a free school for Beccles. Standards in Suffolk have been below the national average for the last four years.

'The establishment of this free school is a key driver of improvement within the local area and will provide greater opportunity and choice for parents and pupils.

'It is not unusual for a free school to have a slow uptake, moving your child to a new school is a significant decision and only one month has passed since we were given the go-ahead.

However, we have had 106 expressions of interest from parents.

We expect pupil numbers to increase steadily over the next couple of months as parents are reassured that the school will open and that we are offering a real alternative, which caters for pupils of all abilities including those pupils with special educational needs.

'Many free schools open on temporary sites while the permanent site is prepared. To wait would deny two year groups an alternative educational offer.'

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