Waveney District Council committee to meet on Beccles Free School

AN EXTRAORDINARY meeting will be held in Waveney next week as councillors review a charity's plans to open the first free school in the district.

Waveney District Council will hold an extraordinary meeting of its overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday as it reviews the Seckford Foundation's bid to open Beccles Free School.

The committee will consider a report and presentation from Graham Watson, of the Woodbridge-based foundation, before deciding if it wants to review the controversial school further.

As the decision was made by schools minister Lord Hill, the matter is outside of their control, but the committee could continue a review into it.

A campaign has been running against the free school and the committee's meeting was called after a request from councillor Peter Byatt in February.

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Mr Byatt said: 'Our priority is to support the economy of Waveney and ensure the best use of public money.

'The council believes that local residents are entitled to be fully consulted about the proposed 'Beccles Free School', the possible siting of the school and the impact on the environment and transport infrastructure.'

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The high school is due to open at Carlton Colville Primary School in September, before moving to the site of Beccles Middle School in September 2014.

In his report to the committee, Mr Watson explained the foundation conducted a consultation as part of its bid after a group of parents approached them for help with opening a school as they were unhappy about Suffolk County Council's School Organisational Review, which is removing middle schools, and the academic performance in north Suffolk.

He said: 'The community asked for more choice and opportunity in the provision of secondary education in Beccles. The local community also believes that such a school will raise achievement and attainment above the county and national averages.'

He added that the school would ultimately be for up to 540 pupils aged 11-16, offering a traditionally academic education.

A campaign has been running against the free school, with criticisms that it is taking funding from Sir John Leman High School, in Beccles, and that there are already a surplus of high school places in Waveney.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous and Mark Bee, county councillor for Beccles, were among those to speak out against it.

Mr Watson said: 'This campaign has caused the demand for places to reduce since the application was submitted. However demand remains strong for the places available.'

He added: 'The experience of other free schools is that once the staff have been appointed, and the building confirmed, demand increases. It is expected that in year two demand will exceed the places available.'

The meeting will take place in Lowestoft Town Hall on Wednesday, June 27 at 6.30pm.

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