Suffolk Chilling Effects: Local Press remove article about Beccles Free School after request from Seckford Foundation

Anger Last night as I reported articles on Beccles Free School were removed from all online versions of Archant’s titles: The EDP and the Beccles and Bungay and Lowestoft Journals.

Meanwhile Wikisuffolk have re-published the original articles and you can read the EDP website article or the Beccles and Bungay/ Lowestoft Journal print edition article over on the Wikisuffolk site.

No reason was given for this until this morning when after a number of enquiries to Archant they confirmed to me that the article was removed following a request from the Seckford Foundation. I asked why and was told it was due to the quote Watson gave that said that “final approval” was expected before the end of this month.

However I am convinced this is not a mis-quote as Graham Watson, the Bursar of Woodbridge School who fronts the bids has constantly repeated this message.

Back at the end of April, Watson wrote a letter distributed to nearly 2000 parents in the Ixworth area that said: 
It also successfully applied to run two Suffolk-based Free Schools at Saxmundham and Beccles, which will open in September 2012.  
This prompted concern that the Beccles and Saxmundham bids had actually been finally approved and Watson was asked about this in an email. He replied on 2nd May saying:
The letter was deliberately optimistic in tone.  We have not had final approval. It will not be for us to communicate the decision to particular parties, we will publicise the decision once we have it.
Two days later Watson wrote to "interested parties" of the Beccles bid telling them:
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 this exchange Watson went on to sound even more certain at the consultation meeting this week at Stanton when he said to a room full of over 100 people:
"We put in two bids to run free school one in Saxmundham one in Beccles which we will hear, probably sometime next week or the week after, that we have been successful and they will open on 6 September this year"
And yesterday in the Archant articles they quoted him saying:
"The final approval for the opening of the proposed free schools is expected by the end of the month"
This quote is apparently the reason these articles were all pulled from Archant's website yesterday following a request from the Seckford Foundation.

It is interesting to read the more cautious and probably wise form of words used by the proposers of the Breckland Free School:
We are in the process of completing all the necessary paperwork involved in order to have the Funding Agreement signed and approved. We anticipate that this will be completed by the end of May 2012. This is all part of the “pre-opening” phase of starting the new school and a normal part of the process. We do not anticipate unforeseen circumstances that will prevent the Agreement from being signed. We will of course announce when this stage has been successfully passed.
If as Graham Watson implies the signing of the Funding Agreement is a formality what has happened to the statutory duty of the Secretary of State to consider the impact on local schools and what was the outcome of the consultation which many local people contributed to that Seckford refuse to release?

This morning the EDP published another article which they claim was already written for the Saturday edition. It is a slightly different version without the Watson claim and with a headline about the local MP. In general it is less critical. I do believe that the article was already written, it is typical for Archant to do several version of an article for various papers but the impression this gives is chilling.

In any event the Seckford Foundation have managed to remove stories critical of them from the local press. Coming at the end of a week where we have seen posters opposing Seckford ripped down, leaflets for parents taken away and meetings where Seckford have refused to answer legitimate questions and closed down debate this gives a very sorry impression of democracy and public life in Suffolk.

Private Eye and the Guardian have already written about the situation in Suffolk. I wrote a post last week suggesting Seckford are turning into Suffolk’s new Andrea Hill. It seems they are determined to prove me right.
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