Beccles Free School Petition of 2773 handed to MP Peter Aldous

Peter Aldous MP and Jeremy Rowe,
Head of Sir John Leman High School
Today the Head of Sir John Leman High School handed a petition with 2773 signatures opposing the Beccles Free School to local MP Peter Aldous at the School.

Peter Aldous said around 50 constituents had been in contact with him with a clear majority against the proposals. Aldous said that whilst he approved of free schools he had concerns about capacity and demand for the Beccles proposal. He told Head Teacher Jeremy Rowe. who thanked him for his involvement, that he would be writing to Lord Hill, the Education Minister this weekend with his views.

Peter Aldous also raised the concern that there had been a number of recent educational changes in Waveney and that there might be too much change at one time.

Rowe expressed the view that if the school went ahead one local school at least would end up closing within a few years and that education throughout the area would suffer resulting in less choice for parents and a poorer education for their children.

I am sure that Jeremy Rowe would like it if Peter Aldous took a stronger and clearer line opposing the free school as his rival for the Waveney Seat former Labour MP Bob Blizzard has but nevertheless it is clear that Peter Aldous is listening. I wouldn't say he had completely come off the fence but he seems to be dipping a leg over!

I hope the petition concentrates Peter's mind over the weekend and he is able to back the clear local view on this issue. Speaking to him you could almost see the internal division inside him wanting to support something that he agreed with ideologically but also understanding that on the ground, in practice, it might actually make things worse.

So is still unclear if the Free School will, despite this opposition, go ahead. Last week Seckford advertised for a Headteacher and whilst claiming they will not "impose the School" against local will they still seem to be pressing ahead and leaving the decision for the DfE. Peter Aldous suggested we might expect a decision before the end of April from the DfE.

And so for the second time in as many years Suffolk is the centre of a political storm of national interest. This time the effect of free schools on established and successful local schools. Last year it was the County Council's "new strategic direction" which tried to pursue an agenda of outsourcing local services. After a huge outcry that saw demonstrations to save libraries and school crossing patrols the then Leader of the Council had to leave followed soon by the Chief Executive.

I don't think this is as unlikely as some might think. Whilst Suffolk is seen as a mainly Conservative county in the main this is still an old-fashioned conservatism. The new market dominated neoliberalism prizing competition and choice over stability and tradition does not play well across much of the county that is still, well, conservative.

So tonight at 8pm in the town of Beccles BBC Radio 4's Any Question's will be broadcast LIVE from  Sir John Leman High school. Apparently Baroness Warsai, George Monbiot and Anthony Seldon (Head of private Wellington College) are amongst the panel members

I think it is fairly likely that there will be a question about free schools! I am lucky enough to have a ticket and am looking forward to it!

You can read all my posts about Beccles Free School.

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