Revealed: The done deal on Ixworth Free School and Thurston Partnership

Michael Gove MP
Currently the Thurston partnership of schools and Suffolk County Council are consulting on their proposals for moving to two tier in the Thurston area. The proposers of the Ixworth Free School are trying to drum up the "parental interest" needed for their bid. But it appears that a decision has already been made about the future of education in Thurston. Not by teachers. Not by parents. Not by the Local Authority. But by politicians.

On 14th September there was a meeting in London with Secretary of State Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock MP, David Ruffley MP and Suffolk Education portfolio holder Graham Newman where a deal was done. Newman describes the deal in an email to a St Edmundsbury District councillor:
Cllr Graham Newman
I am aware of this, but we would not have managed to get Academy status for Ixworth and Beyton Middle schools (thus thwarting SOR) without Matt's & David's personal intervention with Michael Gove, albeit with me in the room. 
A Free School for 11-16 year olds is a quid pro quo offered by Matt to the Secretary of State, which was well received.
The wording is a bit unclear but what Newman means is Gove turned down the academy status applications made by the Middle Schools and the "quid pro quo" is the free school.

David Ruffley MP
So the County Council gets to go ahead with the school organisation review by implementing the Thurston partnership proposal and in return Gove gets to open another free school. The County Council know this will eventually mean that the Beyton annexe to Thurston becomes unviable and will have to close with the disruption that will cause but at least they will then be able to sell the site and get some money as senior officer Phil Whiffing writes:
There is route through all this.

We support the local schools preferred approach and go for a single Thurston 11-18 using Beyton. This is most affordable, quickest and pragmatic. That would allow someone, perhaps including the Cof E to bring forward a free school application for either Ixworth or Stanton. If that had support then DfE would provide the funding and a few years later Thurston could consolidate on one site and we'd get a capital receipt for Beyton.
Matthew Hancock MP
So this, basically is the plan and it appears to have already been decided. I can completely understand what Phil Whiffing is saying and I think he is really giving the best advice to make the most of a ridiculous situation caused by the failure of this Government's education policies. The fact that this is then sold to parents by the politicians as if it were the best option is a triumph of spin over reality.

The capital monies available for the free school and re-organisation should be given to the local schools to spend under the auspices of the County Council without the "strings attached" from the Government of having to set up an additional "free school". Vested interests such as closing schools and their senior staff and politicians should not be the ones driving these changes. It is the educational interests of the children that should prevail not the political will of adults.

The question is should these four men - Gove, Newman, Hancock and Ruffley - decide what happens to local schools in secret meetings or is there a better way?

Tomorrow my reports on the free school and Thurston partnership proposals continue with a look at just what was described as "shaby, expensive, second best!" and by who...
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