Government attacked over Beccles and Carlton Colville Free School plan

The government came under fire last night from two senior Suffolk Conservatives over the way it has approved plans for Waveney's first free school.

Peter Aldous, Waveney MP, and Mark Bee, leader of Suffolk County Council, accused the Department for Education (DfE) of pushing through plans and ignoring its own advice after it gave the green light to set up the Beccles Free School next month.

Mr Aldous and Mr Bee made their remarks as they appeared before an extraordinary overview and scrutiny meeting of Waveney District Council.

Both Tories had been called to appear before the committee as members are exploring how the decision to set up the free school was made.

From September the Beccles Free School will temporarily set up home for two years on the site of the former Carlton Colville Primary School before relocating in 2014 to the site of Beccles Middle School.

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Mr Aldous and Mr Bee have both opposed the free school plans and had lobbied the DfE to try to make it change its decision – which flew in the face of strong opposition in Beccles and surrounding areas.

They both feared the free school would impact on Beccles's Sir John Leman High School and other schools in the district and they say there is no demand for it in the area.

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However, Mr Aldous told the committee that he believed that the DfE had given permission to the free school as a way of supporting its flagship education policy to free up schools control from local authorities.

Mr Aldous, who had 13 meetings or representations with education ministers over the issue, said the government stance was: 'We have got to stick to our guns on this one. We have got to stick it through'.

Mr Aldous summed up the mood in Beccles about the free school by saying 'The overwhelming view is we don't want the free school here, we want to make what we have got here work.'

Mr Bee told the committee that the free school should have been thrown out at stage one of the application process as the site of the Beccles Middle School was never going to be viable for next month's opening.

He said it went against DfE time guidelines for setting up the school in Beccles in 2012, which the free school backers the Seckford Foundation had originally wanted.

Mr Bee also told the committee he would help members call the DfE into account in further meetings by saying: 'We are more than happy to load your gun'.

It was also mentioned that Sir John Leman was investigating launching a possible judicial review against the Becces Free School process.

So far at least 64 pupils have signed up for the first school's first year, which has a capacity for 162 places.

Last night's meeting featured documents about the free school consultation process which saw 59pc of written responses of people in the Beccles area saying they did not support the plan.

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