Beccles, the Big Society and a Free School

See the the next blog post Free School Consultations: Like Letting Property Developers carry out their own planning inquiry

The North Suffolk market town of Beccles is not exactly where you would expect a battle with the Coalition Government's education policy to play out but that is what has happened. With some 9000 inhabitants it has a high school called "Sir John Leman High" named after a local tradesman who went on to become Lord Mayor of London some 100 miles South of Beccles.

Not exactly a politically radical part of the Country but with a strong local sense of identity that you typically find in this kind of remote rural area. People here are likely to be more loyal to town than party.

Suffolk County Council's Conservative Leader Mark Bee comes from Beccles and is proud of being once the Mayor of the Town Council here before going on to Lead first the local Waveney District and then County Council.

Beccles Lido
Back in November 2011 the people of Beccles actually won the Prime Minister's Big Society award due the community spirit and effort they had demonstrated when saving the Beccles Lido. 

David Cameron remarked:
Beccles Lido shows the great things that can happen when the power of a community is unleashed. 
Congratulations to Beccles Lido Limited and all the many volunteers and local businesses who decided to take action and play a part in the pool’s future. Through your passion, determination and great community spirit, you have shown what the Big Society is all about and created not just a wonderful new lido that the town can come together and enjoy, but a stronger community too.
That strong community spirit is evident once again in Beccles but this time the Coalition Government do not seem so impressed. The organiser of the Say No to Beccles Free School petition remarked earlier on Twitter:

This followed an at times heated exchange on Twitter earlier today between local residents and one of Gove's political advisors Sam Freedman who alleged supporters of the free school had been "intimidated": (You can see the full exchange here on the Wikisuffolk website)
When pushed on this Freedman made a specific allegation that someone from the Anti-Academies Alliance had "reduced someone from the free school to tears" at a public meeting:

Local Beccles residents and the Anti-Academies Alliance denied this had happened. Sam Freedman has been sent evidence of this alleged incident which he is sending me. To be clear I am not suggesting that Freedman has made this allegation up, it has clearly been reported to him by someone else. Update: I have now been provided with details of this incident and have looked into it and posted a new blog post with what I have found

Opposition to the free school in Beccles has been led by local parents and groups such as the Anti-Academies Alliance have not been actively involved. Indeed Sir John Leman School itself is an academy.

Freedman then went on incredibly to suggest that the clear audience reaction at the Beccles Any Questions? could not be relied on as the audience was "chosen by the Headteacher":

This seems quite bizarre. There were posters all over Beccles about Any Questions and anyone could get a ticket by contacting the school. In addition the BBC require certain numbers of tickets to be give to local political parties. The Tory MP was present. Several Tory Councillors were present. The real issue for the DfE and the Government is that they, as well as many other Tory supporters were the ones clapping the Head of Sir John Leman. Attempts to blame this on groups like the "anti-academies alliance" and suggesting intimidation and bias just will not work.

As the New Statesman points out this weekend:
The Conservatives have a fine record of portraying themselves as the party of common sense, as if they are not even involved in "politics" at all. They have also, traditionally, been skilled at defaming their rivals in order to scare floating voters. But that was when the enemies were identifiable as something, or someone, different from the middle-income conservatively minded masses. Now they are using those same labels to discredit pillars of the establishment - the very people those conservative-minded masses respect - and even the previously untouchable nurses are in the firing line
This is what the DfE and the Seckford Foundation are doing. In attacking Beccles and its residents Conservatives are basically launching an attack on themselves.

See the the next blog post Free School Consultations: Like Letting Property Developers carry out their own planning inquiry
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