If you have followed my Blog and Tweets you will know that I have attended more of the Suffolk Free School transport consultation meetings than is probably good for my health. I have been pleased to see that Cllr Graham Newman has also attended the vast majority of them in person. I had a go at him for missing the first one but this was a little unfair.
Having attended so many of the meetings and thought a lot about the issues I am making my own response to the consultation because I think that the proposal made by Suffolk County Council is unfair and gives an unnecessary advantage to the free schools at the expense of established Suffolk schools.
The basic flaw seems to be the way in which the catchment area policy is being applied. Take for example a convertor academy such as Stradbroke High School (formerly a maintained school called Stradbroke Business and Enterprise College). When it became an academy what happens legally is that the former maintained school ceases to exist and is Closed and a new school (the Academy) is opened.
But for Suffolk CC’s transport policy both as now and as proposed in the consultation this former catchment area is used for the purposes of the transport policy even if the new academy doesn’t have (as most don’t) a catchment area in its admissions policy any longer.
So here is the catchment:
Now when it comes to the free schools let’s take a look at what happens. A maintained school is closed and a new academy school (for that is what a free school is legally) opens. What’s the difference? Sure the age phase is different (although overlapping) but the size seems to stay broadly the same.
If you look at what has actually happened in Beccles you can see Beccles Middle Catchment below:
But look what a huge catchment area Suffolk County Council are proposing:
So as I see it there are three options:
Option 1 - Overlapping Catchments with Free School getting Former Middle Catchment
The policy is kept literally as it is now with the former middle school catchment areas being used for new free schools opening on the former middle school sites.
The current schools catchments would be unaffected - so some areas would have overlapping catchments and a choice of two schools.
This might be expensive and some people in areas without such a choice might say it is unfair.
Now I know the County Council have to provide transport on request to the nearest school so they might have to transport some other children under this rule but this will be a smaller area.
I personally favour this option.
Option 2 - Free School gets former Middle Catchment and Other Schools Catchments Reduced
New Free Schools get the catchment area of the former middle school with the catchment areas of other local schools reduced accordingly.
This would take choice away for people in the former catchment area.
Option 3 - Expanded Catchments for other Academy Schools
If a new free school gets a huge catchment on opening why should a convertor academy not get the same? This option would be hugely expensive as it would give large 20 mile radios catchments to any school that wanted one just like some of the free schools are getting.
Note I have used catchment to mean transport priority area as they amount to the same thing
The final transport consultation meeting is at Sudbury Upper School tonight 7pm to 9pm. The consultation closes on 1 June.