Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Free School FOI Shorts: Suffolk CC "we should stick to the DfE and Seckford foundation line"

Simon White
Director of Childrens and
Young peoples services
In Mid December Education Portfolio Holder Cllr Graham Newman received what he described as "the first supportive letter I have received in favour of [Beccles] Free School, versus many letters of complaint" and seemed a bit non-plussed at how to deal with it.

He drafted an email in response which he sent to Simon White the Children and Young People's Services Director for comment. The draft looked like this:
This is the first supportive letter I have received in favour of this Free School, versus many letters of complaint and condemnation, many not rooted in anything the Head Teacher of Sir John Leman has said.

Suffolk County Council has a clear policy about free schools, which is generally supportive and facilitative where they can offer choice and improvement. I f entry at Year 7 & 8 to Sir John Leman Academy is thwarted by the use of the Middle School for Free School purposes, that will not introduce competition; it will simply kill off Sir John Leman. That is very clearly not the democratic wish of local people,as expressed in terms of those expressing interest in the project (measured in tens) and those formally expressing a preference for (ie applying for a place at) Sir John Leman, which is measured in hundreds.

I also understand that the assumption that Beccles Middle School building is a pre-requisite to fulfil the objective of a Free School to reality in 2012 is not claimed by the education sponsor, the Seckford Foundation.

I would further add that at no time has the Free School worked with the County Council on the admissions process either at Beccles or Saxmundham, which has been a feature of all other current Free School proposals.

I would like to respond on behalf of SCC along these lines and would welcome your view before I do so.
 
Simon White is not keen on this response, thinking it too strong and urges Cllr Newman to "stick to the DfE and Seckford Foundation line". He re-drafts the letter on that basis and it turns into a letter supporting the free school:
Hi Graham

I wouldn't be so strong if I were you.

I think we should stick to the DfE and Seckford foundation line, and then make the points about the site. And I agree that we should make all communications on the basis that we would send the same letter to all parties.

Something like Thank you for your letter.

I hope that your fears about the future of the Free School are misplaced.

SCC is in favour of the introduction of Free Schools where they will increase parental choice and bring new investment in education in to the county, although we are also bound to take into account their impact on other schools.

In this case the short term use of the existing middle school site has dominated the discussion, but this is really relatively unimportant compared to creation of a new school which could offer something new and exciting to parents in this part of Suffolk. Everyone agrees that the FS can use the site from 2014, but until that date, SJL require additional capacity partly because they have taken extra pupils to accommodate the delay in opening the new Pakefield High school. The Local Authority has implemented its SOR programme on the basis that SJL would use the Middle School site until that date.

The DfE are evaluating 4 options the Free School using the Middle school site from 2012, with alternative provision being made for SJL's pupils; SJL and the FS sharing the site, the FS using another site until 2014, or delaying the opening of the FS until 2014. I know they are very determined that a solution is found that will enable the Free School to open as planned, and this will create opportunities for young people in Suffolk for many years to come - it is not primarily about continuing to use a set of particular buildings, or the education of the young people currently in the Middle School (although obviously this is very important to the parents of those children). I know you will understand when I say that we care about the education of all the children who will be affected by these proposals - including those who will be attending SJL and need classrooms and facilities.

I think that the Free School will be successful, although it may take some years to build up to its full capacity. However, even as it does so, other good local schools will continue to prosper, and may well also be full. The Government's policy is to encourage competition and facilitate choice, and parents will have a range of very good schools to choose from in this area.

I am sure that the DfE will come up with a solution that will work, and the Council has offered every help that they may need to make this happen.
The re-write appears to be in order to support Suffolk County Council's pro-free school policy. What is odd is that it is the Council Officer re-writing the Conservative politicians email to fit with party policy!

Links - Suffolk County Council Free Schools and Academies Page - Full Free Schools and Academies Policy

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