Former MP brands Beccles free school “a waste of money”

A former MP has slammed proposals for a free school in north Suffolk, branding it 'a waste of money'.

Bob Blizzard, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Waveney, has condemned Education Secretary, Michael Gove's decision to provisionally approve a new free school in Beccles.

Speaking after meeting local parents concerned about the impact of the proposal on the existing Sir John Leman High School, he said: 'Another high school in a town the size of Beccles cannot be justified. There is no capacity problem in Beccles - especially with the creation of a new high school in Pakefield to take south Lowestoft and Kessingland pupils who have been coming to Sir John Leman - and parents are overwhelmingly satisfied with standards at Sir John Leman, especially as it has just received a glowing Ofsted inspection report. Few parents appear to be expressing a preference for the free school in the current admissions process.

'These are tough times and the government is always telling us how little money it has, yet Michael Gove wants to spend millions of pounds imposing a school on Beccles that few people want. It doesn't make sense. If there is money to spare, it could be used to avoid cuts in the budgets of other local schools or restore the young person's travel pass.'

Under government arrangements new state-funded schools can be established in response to parental demand. Free schools are funded directly from central government and are the subject of Ofsted inspections but have freedom from local authority control.

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Mr Blizzard, Waveney MP for 13 years until he lost out to Peter Aldrous at the last election, added: 'Another high school would also damage secondary education in Beccles by destabilising Sir John Leman and reducing the breadth of subjects and skills it offers. Michael Gove seems to want to let Beccles Free School use the current Beccles Middle School buildings which have long been designated for Sir John Leman and are absolutely necessary for the school to take in two more year groups under Suffolk County Council's (SCC) schools reorganisation. SCC does now appear to have accepted Sir John Leman's legal claim to these buildings, but it remains to be seen whether Michael Gove has the power and inclination to override this situation.

'In the 1970s Suffolk County Council saw the shortcomings and financial inefficiency of maintaining two small high schools in Beccles, neither of which was going to be able to deliver the breadth of educational experience needed for the modern world, and they created one better equipped school. Now Michael Gove wants to turn the clock back.

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'His proposal is a mess and he should now abandon this proposed free school before any more money is wasted. Even if one supports the idea of free schools, this one doesn't make any sense for Beccles.'

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