Beccles Free School twist as plans now backed by local headteacher

The row over a free school in north Suffolk has taken a new twist after a headteacher has pledged to lend his support if plans are delayed for two years.

Proposals for a free school to open in Beccles has met with opposition since it was first announced in December last year. But now Jeremy Rowe, headteacher of Sir John Leman High School, Beccles, has said he will support the school if the plans are delayed but only 'if it's what the community wants.'

Mr Rowe said: 'The proposal for a free school has caused a huge amount of uncertainty in Beccles and the surrounding area - it's educational suicide.

'I have suggested a way forward which I believe will satisfy all parties. We would support an application from the Seckford Foundation, the group behind the free school bid, to open Beccles Free School in the Beccles Middle School building from September 2014.

'I will promote the new school and offer staff and resources to ensure that is would be successful. Our resources and expertise will be at their disposal. I have no doubt we could learn from each other.'

The aim at present is for the free school to open in September next year, after the closure of Beccles Middle School in August under Suffolk County Council's reorganisation of schools.

The free school would cater for about 540 students aged between 11 and 16-years-old.

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Mr Rowe added: 'Adding two additional year groups in September 2012 means that our school will grow by approximately 400 students. Local demographics, and the effect of a new school which has recently opened in Lowestoft, mean that from September 2014 we will revert to our original size.

'My option would bring relief and certainty to parents and students, remove and unnecessary distraction which is causing huge anxiety and save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

'My love of Beccles is bigger than my doubts about the free school, but I'm hoping it's postponed so we can put faith back into people. If in 2014 people want to have it, I won't stand in their way, I would work with them.'

The Beccles Free School – which would be called Waveney High School – was one of 55 free schools approved by education secretary Michael Gove.

They operate in a similar way to academies and have control over the curriculum, how money is spent and the length of the school day. Under government arrangements new state-funded schools can be established in response to parental demand.

No one from the Seckford Foundation was available to comment on Mr Rowe's proposal but last week chairman Roger Finbow confirmed in a letter to Mr Rowe that the free school would only move to the middle school building from September 2014.

'If our application (for Beccles Free School) succeeded appropriate accommodation would have to be found, at least until September 2014,' he said.

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