Plans for free school for Beccles and Carlton Colville come under scrutiny

Only 37 pupils have signed up to a controversial Beccles free school in north Suffolk it was revealed yesterday.

The Seckford Foundation said only 37 out of 162 places had been filled for its temporary free school at Carlton Colville, near Lowestoft, which is due to open its doors in September before moving to Beccles in 2014.

Last night the low uptake was discussed at Waveney District Council's extraordinary overview and scrutiny committee meeting.

And as members questioned Graham Watson, the director of the Seckford Foundation, there were claims pupils were being induced to sign up to the school by being offered free school uniforms, free meals and 'mobile technology'.

Members also queried the foundation's claims there was a strong demand for the free school in the area and decided to ask Department for Education (DfE) officials to provide all details of the organisation's successful bid, which was approved by the government on June 1 – despite strong opposition in the areas to the scheme. Mr Watson said he hoped that 106 pupils would sign up for the free school's first year at the site of the former Carlton Colville Primary School, then numbers could climb to 216 in its second year before moving to the site of Beccles Middle School where more pupils would join.

Mr Watson said: 'It is not unusual for a free school to have a slow uptake. We expect numbers to increase. The school was viable with 106 pupils in it.'

When asked by Beccles councillor Graham Elliott about concerns over inducements being made to pupils to sign up, Mr Watson replied: 'The suggestion it is an inducement is wrong.'

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The meeting heard there were concerns over the Seckford Foundation's consultation over the free school, which showed there was demand for it.

At one point a consultation session was held in a Carlton Colville newsagent with only two days' publicity to promote, it was claimed.

Peter Byatt, councillor for Pakefield, said that out of 10,500 households sent consultation details only 49 had responded positively to the plans.

The meeting heard there was strong opposition with fears the free school will impact on other schools and a skills centre in the region.

Mr Byatt said; 'We need to see what the Seckford Foundation submitted to the DfE.

'I can't see why it can't be in the public domain.'

The committee agreed to invite a DfE representative before committee members to discuss the free school bid process.

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