Free School Madness continues in Suffolk

Jeremy Rowe, Head of Sir John Leman High
Suffolk has across the board an excess of school places. It is a mainly rural county where small towns tend to have a single secondary school if that. And secondary schools are small here, edge over a 1000 children and people think it is getting big. Into the more average territory of 1500 to so and it is "too big". After all large numbers of people in Suffolk live in places smaller than this in overall population!

But for reasons that seems to lack any rational explanation Suffolk seems to be getting more than its fair share of "free schools". It is almost as if the Government is unable like my children to understand the difference between "want" and "need".

By and large schools are good in Suffolk and we certainly do not have much of the problems with challenged secondary schools in the way many cities do. In fact outside of the more urban areas practically all of our secondary schools are judged by Ofsted as Outstanding or Good with Outstanding Features.

In fact the main issues around secondary education are small size making it more difficult to provide a broad curriculum and harder to run effective sixth forms.

This isn't an area where you would imagine a huge need for new schools but yet we have so far seen several free schools approved. Mainly so far former middle schools kept in my view largely due to local sentiment rather than need.

From comments made (and subsequently deleted) from Facebook by Wendy Canham one of the proposers of the Ixworth and Stanton Free School it is clear some of this sentiment is based on completely inaccurate information such as the idea below that children do not start studying science until 11:

Last week another new free school was approved in the small town of Beccles. In this case the old middle school building is to be given to the new Beccles Free School which is part of a chain of free schools run by the Seckford Foudnation who run an independent school in Woodbridge when it is needed by the local high school to accommodate the middle school children. This prompted the Head of Sir John Leman High School, Jeremy Rowe to say to the TES:

"So where do I put my new intake of students? I have nowhere to put them without that building, which was promised to me two years ago. I may as well drop them off at the Department for Education and let them deal with it."
But as the TES article and an interesting discussion on the Local Schools Network points out this could be the least of his worries. In a small town such as Beccles with only 9000 people the viability of two high schools must be in serious doubt. Sir John Leman High School which was judged "good with outstanding features" in its last Ofsted inspection could close altogether over time.

To me it seems hugely questionable to use public money to build a new school to compete against an already good existing school. A real case of confusing "want" and "need". I thought the country didn't have any money? And if it does there are huge areas of the country that actually need both more school places full stop and more good school places. Would the money not be better spent there or is the reason we are attracting so much money for free schools in Suffolk something to do with the number of Conservative MPs we have...

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