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Suffolk Free Schools: The failed Spicer/Hancock plan to open Ixworth Free School early

Stephen Larder, Ixworth Free School
Spokesperson
On the 24th November 2011 the Ixworth Free School group held a meeting at Barningham where they suggested that they wanted to open the free school in 2013. There was a huge problem with this suggestion. Ixworth Middle School (where they want to open the free school) does not close until 2014 and there are a huge set of dependencies - such as building spaces in primary schools to accommodate Year 5 and 6 children.

The idea didn't seem thought through. Or rather it didn't seem that the interests of the education of the children was the main purpose but rather getting enough numbers for the free school, at the time it was suggested:
It is obviously a good way of trying to ensure that parents don’t want to move their children to Thurston Community College at the end of Year 6. After all, those children will have been at the free school (with its new school uniform etc) for a year. It would be a difficult decision to move them at that point. 
Doing this ensures that the school is full in its first few years; something that the free school in Clare has struggled to achieve. But it also means that we already know the pupils that will fill it. There will be no space for children from Stanton, for example. And given the proximity element of the admissions criteria no children from further afield would get a place. 
The implication of this is that the school ceases to be about increasing choice for parents in the Thurston pyramid, but securing places for Ixworth children before they are even of secondary age.
I can now reveal that the Free School group did not even contact Suffolk County Council in advance of making this proposal. Indeed the idea appears to have come from Cllr Joanna Spicer and Matthew Hancock MP who are very clearly continuing to "pull the strings" of the Ixworth proposal. They seem desperate to get the school open as soon as possible, perhaps with an eye to the 2013 County Council elections.

Free School Spokesperson Stephen Larder wrote to Portfolio Holder Newman saying:
Graham
After discussions with Matthew Hancock & Joanna Spicer today, I would like to discuss with you how we resolve the matter of which year the free school could open.
Larder produced a "paper" outlining the proposal:

Ixworth Free School 2013 Opening Paper

Now the County Council are the only people who actually can close the Middle School. Had the free school group spoken to the County Council earlier it would have been clear it could never happen in 2013. Not because of a lack of political will but it just isn't practical.

Interestingly Stephen Larder had discussed this with Michael Gove and others as he tells Portfolio Holder Graham Newman:
Thanks for the email - I know this wouldn't be easy but it would give much greater stability to those children in the transition and give the free school a much better start. I have discussed this with Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and the New Schools Network. There are indeed precedents for this and I would be keen to discuss with you the mechanics and implications.
Indeed Larder and the free school group met Michael Gove when he visited Suffolk on 21st October but for whatever reason the discussion never happened with the County Council until late November.

Stephen Larder would have been much better off talking to Phil Whiffing or one of the other senior County Council officers rather than Michael Gove who to be fair to him cannot be expected to understand the practical considerations involved in this case.

In the end Cllr Newman replied outlining the reasons why this was never going to happen:

Letter from Graham Newman to Stephen Larder
So this fills in a gap in our understanding of this story. Sadly the politicians involved appear to prefer to make all these decisions in private and we only get to find out about them after through freedom of information requests after the event...

Tomorrow: Just what is it that Cllr Joanna Spicer thinks is "sinister"?
Ixworth Free School 1874550521016481384

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