MP admits surprise over free-school bid

An MP has spoken of his surprise that the group behind a bid to create a free school for Beccles expects government approval within the next few weeks.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous wrote to the school minister in opposition to the proposed Beccles Free School, but has not heard any news about a decision, despite the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust hoping to be given the go-ahead by the end of the month.

Mr Aldous said: 'The Department for Education said they will let me know as soon as a decision is made and I have had no indication at all.'

He added: 'In my original submission on the whole proposals I did say it was important it was made promptly and I do think it should have been made by now.'

The trust said it expected approval soon as it announced the appointment of John Lucas, director of learning at the Thomas Clarkson Community College in Wisbech, as headteacher, and also announced a headteacher for its proposed free school in Saxmundham, having previously appointed the bid's former independent adjudicator Rob Cawley as principal designate.

A spokesman said: 'The appointments were made after communication with local groups and the Department for Education by the Free Schools Trust, which commented that the appointment of principal and headteachers of such quality would give the two schools even greater momentum than before.

'The final decision for the opening of the proposed free schools is expected by the end of the month.'

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The free school could open in September on the site of Carlton Colville Primary School before moving to the site of Beccles Middle School in 2014.

Among the opposition to the bid are Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee and headteachers in Beccles, Lowestoft and Pakefield.

Jeremy Rowe, headteacher at Sir John Leman High, in Beccles, said: 'I just feel desperately sorry for the children of Beccles: the uncertainty is extraordinary. I feel the delay says it all about the proposal for the free school itself and the idea behind it.'

Bill Mountford, Ukip Suffolk County councillor for Lowestoft South, who lives in Carlton Colville, said it was not the right time or place for a free school, while campaigner Ian Goodyer, of Worlingham, hoped that the free school would not be approved, despite the Trust's confidence.

Last Friday the Suffolk Coalition Opposing Free Schools was also launched as a way to unite groups campaigning against proposed free schools in their towns.