The Department for Education defends Beccles Free School decision after criticisms
THE Department for Education has defended its decision to approve a free school in Waveney.
Schools minister Lord Hill gave his approval for the Seckford Foundation to open Beccles Free School last month, despite vocal opposition in the town and Carlton Colville where it will initially open, from leading local politicians, headteachers and a petition of thousands.
Now, as the campaigners who say the school is not necessary and a waste of public money, vow to continue their fight, a spokesman for the government department has said that there is a demand from parents for it.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: 'Along with providing more choice, the department believes that this school will offer a strong and inclusive secondary education – in a county where education standards have generally been below the national average for a number of years.'
The Seckford Foundation, which is based in Woodbridge, announced at the end of last month that their bid to open a free school for Beccles had been approved.
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The school will initially open on the site of the former Carlton Colville Primary School in September, before moving to the site of Beccles Middle School in September 2014 – a point that has angered campaigners.
However, the department has said that it believes it represents value for money and that the required work was not extensive.
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The spokesman added: 'As with all free school projects, we work hard to ensure good value for money for the taxpayer.
'Many free schools open on temporary sites while the permanent site is being prepared. To wait would deny many pupils an alternative educational offer.'
A campaign has been waged against the proposal since it was first announced and the group have vowed to continue their fight.
Bob Blizzard, former Waveney MP and Labour's prospective Parliamentary candidate for the constituency, said that the free school was a 'scandalous waste of public money'.
After seeing a public consultation report prepared by Cambridge Education on the free school bid, Mr Blizzard criticised the department for ignoring the views of the petition as well as the elected representatives, Waveney MP Peter Aldous and Mark Bee, county councillor for Beccles, who both spoke out against it.
Mr Blizzard said: 'In 20 years of public life I have never seen millions spent on such a fragile and feeble project.'
He added: 'They had only 21 parents express an interest, but there was a petition with thousands of names presented by the head of Sir John Leman that did not figure at all.'
However, the department spokesman denied that this document showed the complete level of interest and said that the views of Mr Aldous and the public had been carefully considered, with the majority of parents asked in favour of the school.
The spokesman said that evidence of demand for a smaller school with a core academic curriculum had also been shown when the application was first submitted, while parents also registered their interest with Suffolk County Council and the Seckford Foundation.
The spokesman said: 'The group also had to satisfy the department that the school could offer an excellent and inclusive secondary education to local children, and provide greater choice for parents.
'The foundation has a long track record of providing excellent education and we are confident in its capacity to do the same.'
The department's defence of the decision also comes as Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, hit out at the decision to approve the free school.
She said: 'There is simply no need for a new school in the area. There is no shortage of secondary school places and a new school opening up could only succeed by undermining the excellent Sir John Leman High School.'