Welcome to the consultation evening for parents of prospective pupils of the Ixworth Free School. The aim of the meeting is to give parents an opportunity to contribute their ideas to the formation of the school.However the meeting certainly did not feel like that! It seemed more like a "take it or leave it approach"
Firstly I must thank @RevErasmus on Twitter for enabling the Live Blog from the meeting to go ahead despite the “tech fail” I had when neither Vodafone or Three coverage was available at Blackbourne Middle School. Apparently you need T-Mobile! I will be making sure I have some “emergency” SIM cards in my Geek Bag in future!
Present at the meeting were Graham Watson, Director of the Seckford Foundation who “ran” the meeting, Graeme Bruce, Director of Studies at Woodbridge School and Rob Cawley the recently appointed Principal of the planned Seckford Free Schools Trust.
The meeting began with instructions not to video or record it which seems a little bit of an unfortunate way to start off.
The SCOFS campaign had clearly had a big impact on Seckford although I think the presence of several of us in the room moderated the words of Graeme Bruce about the information we had provided to parents. But the information session majored on trying to answer criticisms made about the narrow curriculum and special educational needs.
What was interesting is that Rob Cawley who Seckford have just appointed who has spent his entire career working in state education was, by far, the most impressive of the three. He gave convincing answers. Whilst this might be seen as a positive thing - and it is certainly better than hiring someone unconvincing who doesn’t know what they are doing - it also made me wonder what exactly it was that Seckford are brining to the party.
Their leaflet to parents boasted:
I think they meant 400+ years but the mistake only goes to highlight that the plan does not look at all thought through. If you contrast the 4 page document with the the much more detailed and impressive plans for IES Breckland you might see what I mean. I am not a big fan of contracted out education provision but at least they have a coherent plan.
Seckford certainly made a valiant attempt to defend a curriculum that just offers academic subjects with no choice at all of vocational subjects and indeed several academic subjects missing. The flaw I felt in the argument was why students could not follow an academic core curriculum and study vocational subjects as well .
Asked by a parent what a child aspiring to be a mechanic would study Bruce made a good point that Physics and Maths could be relevant to them but surely if they studied this alongside a vocational subject they could see the relevance and links better.
The same parent asked why his child should have to study a language if they did not want to and would be likely to fail, might become disengaged . Somewhat unfortunately Bruce said
Yes they might have to do a bit of French but that is “collateral damage"This is a particularly unfortunate remark as Ixworth Free School supporters have constantly criticised Suffolk County Council claiming they made a comment that collateral damage would be cause to children due to the school re-organisation review. Needless to say the parent was none too keen on the idea that their child would be have to endure this.
At this point another parent stormed out of the meeting saying “this is complete bullshit"
Seckford Point blank refused to answer questions about their finances claiming this would be “irrelevant to prospective parents”.
Challenged by me on Governance Watson finally admitted that the Governance arrangements he claimed were like most other academies were not anything like most Suffolk schools and that Seckford would have a majority of the Trust Governors rather than the majority being parent, staff and local community representatives.
Watson also admitted in response to a question Thurston that :
I don’t know much about the local schools…we are not in the business of comparing ourselves with local schoolsStrangely they also answered a question on why the school would not have a sixth form by saying that this isn’t what the parent group asked them to do although the parent group clearly stated in the original material they circulated to parents that they wanted to open an 11-18 school. Watson was clearly not aware of this.
Watson closed the meeting down as soon as things started getting interesting. One parent loudly heckled that:
It’s all to do with transport, you don’t seem to understandThis got widespread applause.
Watson went to to maintain that the school would only go ahead if it had high demand. I challenged this which resulted in the following exchange:
Me: Did you mean like BecclesSeckford have constantly refused to provide this information. This figure is across three year groups! The figure of 86 is one I got from a Freedom of Information Request back in February since then an extensive marketing campaign seems to have got as few as 21 additional expressions of interest.
Watson: Beccles has high demand
Me: Really so about 80 children have applied
Watson: your information is incorrect
Me: So how many then
Watson: i’m going to tell you, I can’t remember, either 146 or 107, I think its 107
Me: About the size of a tiny primary school
The mood of the meeting was interesting. As Watson closed it down he thanked:
I am drawing this meeting to a close, thank you very much to to those parents who have a genuine interest in the free school for coming.I was then heckled by a group of parents who suggested “you’re not a parent, you don’t live in Suffolk!” which was a little strange as my son was actually sat next to me. I do live in Suffolk and I am closer to Stanton than the Woodbridge based Seckford Foundation!
I would say there was quite a polarised 50-50 split in the room for and against the free school. I expect stronger support at the Ixworth meeting tonight!