Have the DfE already decided to go ahead with the Beccles Free School?
Thank you for your email of 23 January. I am replying as I work on Free Schools in Suffolk. I apologise for the delay in replying. It is clear that you feel very strongly about the proposed Free School, but Beccles is a good example of what the Free Schools programme is about: creating choice and driving up educational standards in the local area.
Educational standards in Suffolk are below the national average and have been for some time.
The Beccles Group had to demonstrate evidence of demand for their proposed school to be approved to the pre-opening stage. They clearly showed that a substantial body of parents in the area want the choice of a smaller school with a core academic curriculum alongside the existing provision at Sir John Leman High School.
Free Schools can challenge the status quo in local areas but we are committed to continuing to work with Suffolk County Council and existing schools to manage the process of extending parental choice.
The Beccles Free School statutory consultation closed on the 28th February and the proposers will publish their consultation report shortly. The Department has also received correspondence from other groups and individuals on the proposal. Please be assured that your letter will be added to those representations. The Secretary of State will then consider carefully the consultation that has been carried out, before deciding whether to enter into a Funding Agreement (the legal contracts between the Academy Trust and the Secretary of State that effectively establishes the schools).
Paula LovittThe email ignores the substantial body of evidence (see links at bottom) that has cast a significant doubt on the evidence of parental demand that Seckford submitted in order to get the school approved to the second stage of the process. Not least that this "demand" was collected for a school 7 miles away from the proposed initial location.
Free Schools Group
The suggestion that "educational standards in Suffolk are below the national average" is broadly true although somewhat irrelevant as this is not the case in Beccles:
The October 2011 Ofsted report for Sir John Leman says:
In summer 2011, the proportion of students gaining five GCSE grades C or above including English and mathematics was in line with the national average. The school’s assessment information predicts that current Year 11 students are on track to do better than this. Data shows that students make good progress during their time in this school.I asked Peter Aldous to comment on this email and he denied that the decision had already been made. But the mood in the audience of Any Questions? left absolutely no doubt that Ms Lovitt's claim that:
They clearly showed that a substantial body of parents in the area want the choice of a smaller schoolis just completely untrue. I have seen no "substantial" evidence of demand whatsoever and my understanding is that around 80 children from 50 families have expressed an interest in attending the free school further undermining the "evidence" that was used in order to approve the bid to the second phase.
Indeed Suffolk County Council Leader Mark Bee told the Beccles and Bungay Journal that he was surprised the bid was approved. I think the DfE need to take a step back and evaluate the evidence of demand again. If there was support back when it was collected it certainly isn't there anymore.
Flaws in evidence of demand
My Blog Post on parental demand
Consultation Submission - Ian Goodyer
Consultation Submission - Frank Joyce