Who is going to run the Ixworth (and Stanton) Free School?
This "deal" has resulted in a "parent group" being set up to promote the free school. On a practical level it is clear that the Head of Ixwoth Middle, Glenice Francis is leading this group with political direction from Matthew Hancock MP and Cllr Joanna Spicer.
Even if you think the free school is a great idea I think you should be concerned about the decision making process. I have now published the complete text of the Freedom of Information Act response I got from Suffolk County Council on Wikisuffolk. What strikes me in reading it is the lack of consideration - even mention - for the children and their teachers. Children and teachers are what make a school and any decision making that fails to consider them is unlikely to make the right decisions.
So if what I have disclosed is right we are likely to see a free school open, probably at Ixworth and I will come to the location in a minute. Personally I remain to be convinced the the school is the right solution but if it goes ahead like all schools I wish it well and want to see it succeed for the benefit of the children who end up going there.
I must say I find it depressing that according to Free School spokesperson Stephen Larder 33% of parents who had signed their expression of interest questionnaire would "definitely" send their children to the free school. How can they make such a decision when it is not yet clear who will run the school or pretty much anything about what it will be like?
And that this my main concern. Who exactly will be running their school? Will it be like many free schools a job that is contracted out to an educational chain who may be based hundreds of miles away? I asked the free school group this question and they replied by stating:
It is not our intention to 'let a contract' to a third party eduction provider to run the school. However, we will continually consult with parents to ensure the plan for the school is the best one for the children.I can't say I am re-assured by this. There is plenty of wriggle room in this statement and for two reasons I expect that is what will end up happening because (a) I am unclear that the group themselves have the capacity to run a school, and (b) the DfE might insist it is done this way. We will see.
And on the location, an email from Matthew Hancock back on 15 September made it clear that the free school would be based at Ixworth and indeed that has always been my assumption. Letters from the free school even have Ixworth Middle's address on them. However in response to this Matthew Hancock has said:
“The email was sent on 15 September, before the parent group was set up. The parent group decided to push for Ixworth or Stanton, whereas my initial view had been to push for Ixworth. So the change from a proposal for Ixworth to a proposal for Ixworth or Stanton demonstrates very clearly that this is a parent led group. I was persuaded by the parent led group’s argument that they should look at both, and I back them 100%.”Make of that what you will. My betting is that Ixworth will be the site. Indeed the group's spokesperson tells me "Most importantly the new school would serve both the local communities of Ixworth and Stanton".
And on the issue of Ixworth the group claims that as yet there is no Principal Designate but it is clear from her statement at the Ixworth consultation meeting that Glenice Francis is the front runner for this job.
From speaking to some of the parents proposing the school I can see that they are genuinely motivated by an intention to provide the best for their children and the other local children. The others involved I am less sure about. For the politicians this is a chance to put Tory policy into reality, Joanna Spicer lambasts the Tory Cabinet for not making more of the "success" of the Clare Free School. For the Head of Ixworth and others this seems as if it is "second best" to what they really want. The continuation of three tier.
This looks a very inauspicious start to me. I think if the group want the free school to be a success they will need to distance themselves from the politicians and find some leadership that believes in two tier education, and has a track record of delivering success in an 11-16 school for the benefit of the education of the children.