Beccles Free School: Are Seckford Foundation Suffolk's new Andrea Hill?

NoschoolBack in February Roger Finbow, Chair of the Seckford Governors wrote to me promising:
We have consistently made clear that if, contrary to our understanding, the desire is not there, then we will have no wish to impose a free school on the community.  
Since that time it has become increasingly clear that this is precisely what the Seckford Foundation are doing in Beccles.

Seckford Chair
Roger Finbow
Despite a huge petition opposing the school, letters from five local head teachers, countless letters to the press and consultation responses the Foundation refuse to reveal, the opposition of both the local Conservative MP Peter Aldous and the local Conservative County Councillor Mark Bee (and Leader of Suffolk County Council) the Foundation press on regardless.

But what proves the case beyond all reasonable doubt is that only some 86 children have applied to the school across three year groups. This shows vey clearly that “the desire is not there".

As time has gone on Seckford appear to have adopted the approach that the late Mastermind quizmaster Magnus Magnusson did with his “I’ve started so I’ll finish” catchphrase. I don’t think anything would stop them pressing on with the School now despite the fact that it seems completely irrational to do so.

Why on earth would anyone open a school miles from its intended location in completely unsuitable premises within a couple of miles of a brand new school that opened last year to the opposition of so many and with so few people wanting to attend it?

The Foundation that hardly anyone had heard of outside Woodbridge has become well known across the County for all the wrong reasons. Indeed in Saxmundham a promotional sign was vandalised this week by parents angry at the loss of choice resulting from the opening of Saxmundham Free School.

Out of Touch: Andrea Hill
The case is beginning to have echoes of the Andrea Hill affair last year when you only needed to mention her name in Suffolk for people to loudly complain. At three public meetings I attended this week the same was true of Seckford.

The news that they have recently increased their highest paid staff member's salary to nearly £210, 000 a year and that they are recruiting managers costing around a million pounds a year for less than 300 children only goes to re-enforce the connection.

The DfE may well ignore all of this and press ahead regardless - indeed I expect them to - but for Seckford the truth is they have lost whatever happens significantly damaging their name and reputation especially in the North of Suffolk.

Graham Watson
Seckford Director
Writing to their supporters this week in a letter reminiscent of the arrogant denials of Andrea Hill they brush off the legitimate concerns of thousands of Suffolk residents (just like she did) saying:

We had hoped, as you know, to have received ratification by 16 April. Now it looks more likely that we will hear the good news at the end of this month. There is nothing sinister about the delay, other than this is the first time that the Department for Education has been dealing with a charity opening two schools at once.
Throughout this most frustrating period, the Department for Education has continued to be very supportive of the Free School plans. Despite the frustrating wait, there has been a huge amount of work being done to ensure that Beccles Free School is a success.
It seems to be the case that Seckford don’t care at all about local opposition as the Department for Education support the school. That seems to be all that matters to them. After all it is the DfE’s money they are spending on all of this.

This current Secretary of State for Education - and indeed the whole administration - will be gone in a matter of years. If the Seckford Foundation want to be around in another 400 years they need to start to make long term decisions  and work with local communities rather than imposing a school nobody wants.

Their current behaviour smacks of opportunism. They know that these opportunities will not be around for long as someone will finally see sense so they are taking all they can whilst it is available. This is not a strategy that is likely to win friends.

At the Beccles public meeting last week one parent said that a parents and children were being caused additional and unnecessary stress by the consequences of the free school proposal. She said this followed a similar period of stress caused by the school re-organisation review.

This view resonated in the room. It’s now May and it is absurd that children and their parents don’t know what secondary school they will be attending in September. I have a son starting at secondary school in September and he is visiting his new school and we are looking at uniform etc.

And how are school’s supposed to plan adequate staffing when they don’t know how many children they will have?

The Seckford Foundation would have done well to heed the words of Toby Young who explained in his book How to set up a Free School that his free school group waited until it had a signed funding agreement so it could make certain - he said they were not prepared to take the risk of offering places without a funding agreement.
Seckford Foundation 5400263370242902410

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