The Beccles Free School Battle

Jeremy Rowe,
Head of Sir John Leman High Beccles
This blog has already reported the situation in Beccles, Suffolk a small market town of 9000 with a successful secondary school Sir John Leman High School. The Seckford Foundation that run the independent Woodbridge School are proposing to open a free school in the town somewhat unsurprisingly on the site of the Middle School that is due to close.

Now this is precisely the kind of thing that Gove is trying to encourage. Independent schools coming in to run either free schools or academies. The DfE seemed so keen to approve the school that made a massive logistical error. Sir John Leman had already been promised the Beccles Middle Site to house the expanded numbers it will have from September when it begins to take Year 7 and 8 children for the first time. Then the DfE promised the same building to the Free School.

This prompted Sir John Leman's Head Jeremy Rowe to say:
"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."
Jeremy Rowe however did not give up. He began to fight the proposal on all fronts. Talking to the media, arguing with Gove's "special advisor" Sam Freedman on Twitter basically doing everything he could to highlight the ridiculous situation.

This week he achieved a victory of sorts. The Seckford Foundation announced that the Free School would open at first at the site of Carlton Colville Primary School (which is also closing as part of the school reorganisation). It would also be half the original planned size. In 2014 it would then move to the Middle School site.

But Jeremy Rowe is fighting on. Determined to see the free school off altogether. He has announced on his twitter feed:

And this Tuesday looks to be the next stage of the battle with an open public consultation meeting at 7pm in Hungate Church Hall, Beccles. The consultation document from the Seckford foundation is available on their website.

The document makes interesting reading not least in the way it completely understates the impact of the free school on Sir John Leman High School. In fact it only mentions Sir John Leman in the consultation document once and that is only mentioning it vacating the Middle School site. Under impact on other schools the document says:
Impact on Existing Secondary Schools

The proposed School is likely to result in fewer students for existing secondary schools in Suffolk, with consequential funding implications

Both the proposed School and other secondary schools will have the potential to mutually benefit from sharing resources.
In reality there are real concerns about the sustainability of two secondary schools in Beccles. It may be that the impact is that Sir John Leman becomes unviable in the longer term. Or that the Free School does. The real question is can the town support two secondary schools? This is not even mentioned in the consultation.

The consultation document then goes on to make two interesting claims:
In the ways described in this document, the School will provide a first class education for eleven to sixteen year olds whose parents want the choice of a school with a more traditional curriculum and higher GCSE outcomes than offered by current providers. 
Consistent dissatisfaction with existing provision, and a strong demand for choice of schooling emerged from the Trust’s engagement with parents. (my emphasis)
So the Seckford Foundation are claiming a school that isn't even open yet will have higher GCSE outcomes. Of course if this happens it might just be a reflection of its admissions. It also claims "consistent dissatisfaction with existing provision" although it produces no evidence whatsoever for this statement other than anecdotal.

In fact the available evidence presents a different picture. The latest Ofsted inspection in October 2011 grades the school as Good and says:
Views of parents and carers

The large majority of the parents who responded are highly supportive of the school and what it offers. A typical comment was, 
‘All credit to Sir John Leman High School. We as parents are thoroughly delighted with our daughter’s education and pastoral care.’ 
A small minority of parents raised concerns regarding a range of issues including the extent to which the school values their suggestions and concerns, the school’s dealing with behaviour, the preparation of students for future life, the development of healthy lifestyles, helping parents and carers to support their child’s learning. Inspectors explored each of these issues, but agreed with the large majority of parents who completed the questionnaires and who were highly supportive of the school.
I think it is a shame that the Seckford Foundation are making these kind of dubious and unsubstantiated claims about a school they do not even name. Jeremy Rowe is right to fight this. Having placed tanks on their lawn the Seckford Foundation cannot expect the school to stand back. This is a fight that Seckford started and it is a shame they see the way for their new school to succeed is to attack Sir John Leman.
Seckford Foundation 6636955951432741240

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