Beccles Free School: How wrong did the DfE get it?
Back in March the civil servant responsible for free schools in Suffolk, Paula Lovitt MBE wrote this letter to a prominent Beccles resident:
Thank you for your email of 23 January. I am replying as I work on Free Schools in Suffolk. I apologise for the delay in replying. It is clear that you feel very strongly about the proposed Free School, but Beccles is a good example of what the Free Schools programme is about: creating choice and driving up educational standards in the local area. Educational standards in Suffolk are below the national average and have been for some time.
The Beccles Group had to demonstrate evidence of demand for their proposed school to be approved to the pre-opening stage. They clearly showed that a substantial body of parents in the area want the choice of a smaller school with a core academic curriculum alongside the existing provision at Sir John Leman High School.
Free Schools can challenge the status quo in local areas but we are committed to continuing to work with Suffolk County Council and existing schools to manage the process of extending parental choice. (my emphasis)At the time we wrote and challenged her assertions particularly that a “substantial body of parents” wanted the school. Did she really mean 37? Or even 55?
We are still trying to find out what actually happened at the DfE that lead to them approving this school nobody needs and few people want. It is like getting blood out of a stone. Every single freedom of information request has been rejected and the Department clearly do not want to tell us.
Did they take at face value the 500 or so expressions of interest that we told both Seckford and the DfE were unreliable? Did they just not care how few people had signed up? Had they already promised Seckford they would approve the schools?
One thing is for sure. We WILL find out one day even if it takes months or years.
We keep being told by the DfE that it is not in “the public interest” for the people of Suffolk to know how they made this decision. The biggest nonsense I have read is this bizarre assertion:
Releasing this information may on the other hand also have the negative effect of restraining dialogue and closing off discussions for consideration of better options in relation to the development of a Free School. Ministers and officials need space to develop their thinking and officials need to be able to provide free and frank advice in relation to Free School proposals. By not being able to give free and frank advice, there is a risk of poor decisions being made as not all options are considered. (my emphasis)A risk of poor decisions being made? What like approving a school with 37 applicants!?