IES Breckland target Ixworth Middle in Free School battle for pupils

Today is national offer day and parents throughout the country will be getting secondary school place offers. In the normal run of things parents would be accepting the offers or if not successful perhaps considering an appeal but these are not normal times.

Due to the timescales for Free Schools parents cannot be sure they will actually be approved and open when they make secondary school applications so new free schools have a "parallel" applications process with parents expected to also apply to regular schools in case the free school doesn't open.

This makes sense for parents and children as of course they need a school place somewhere but is problematic for schools as it means they are uncertain about numbers which makes planning more difficult. However for free schools it effectively gives them a recruitment advantage over established schools.

In Suffolk so far only one Free School is confirmed to open in September 2012 - IES Breckland in Brandon. Final decisions are awaited for Beccles and Saxmundham shortly. IES Breckland have 300 school places available, 100 each for Years 7, 8 and 9 due mainly to the Middle School "transition".

IES Breckland is the first free school to be run by a profit making education provider the Swedish company with UK branch "IES". Based in Brandon which is actually a sizeable town of nearly 9000 (a similar size to Beccles) where older children currently go to Mildenhall College after Middle School some 10 miles away. Support for the secondary school is certainly strong in the Town.

What is more surprising is that IES Breckland are writing to parents as far away as Ixworth (20 miles) inviting them to apply for places when by now they will already have a place at Thurston or for year 7 and 8 children Ixworth Middle School.

You can see the letter below:
Letter to parents from IES Brandon

This can be seen in a few ways. Maybe it is dreadful opportunistic marketing part of a free for all where schools compete whatever the consequences. Maybe a dose of their own medicine for Ixworth Middle who haven't thought twice about threatening Thurston Community College. But it is a reminder, if we needed one, that things are certainly different now.

And whilst Ixworth itself is 20 miles away the Northern part of its catchment such as Barnham is equidistant for Ixworth and Brandon.
Ixworth Middle School Catchment - click to enlarge
And as for IES Breckland whilst I am not the biggest fan of outsourced school provision I have to be fair and say that at least the school is committed to offering a full curriculum as the letter says with both academic and vocational choices. The plans sound much more interesting and imaginative that the Seckford chain which appears to want to define its offering by what it doesn't offer rather than what it does.

I wish IES Breckland well. It interests me that when people in the UK hear talk of the "tough love" we seem to focus on the first word and on what the children are expected to do such as line up before class and put their hands up if they want to speak (something I as an adult have to do do in Parish Council meetings!). However it is clear the philosophy is actually based on mutual respect and footage I saw from IES schools in Sweden showed them as quite laid back and informal. In fact the children didn't wear uniforms.

But will this translate? Not sure. IES Swedish founder Barbara Bergström and board members were reported by the BBC to have been horrified recently watching Educating Essex, she commented:
How could parents ever allow their children to behave like that?
This perhaps shows a cultural difference between Sweden and the UK and it will be interesting to see how the "tutorials" and home school contracts work here.
IES Breckland 3014601964751004494

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