Saxmundham Free School's low numbers exposed
|Ian Flintoff, Leiston Headteacher|
Saxmundham is a small town with around 4000 inhabitants and whilst there has been new housing in the area the town suffers from the same issue that the rest of rural Suffolk does. These houses don't tend to bring families with school age children.
Speaking in an article in the East Anglian Daily Times, Ian Flinfoff Head of Leiston High School (soon to be renamed as Alde Valley School) says:
We made it clear during the consultation phase that an additional school in a rural area with declining pupil numbers was not needed. Saxmundham Free School will start its life 70% empty and Beccles Free School 90% empty.
We are also led to believe the free schools will receive plentiful capital monies and a large start up grant. This is hardly a wise use of public funds in a time of austerity and in a rural area with a substantial surplus of school places as a consequence of demographic decline.
The loss of income to our school caused by the reduced number of students attending Alde Valley School in September will inevitably affect the resources we can expect to spend on our own pupils, many of whom come from the Saxmundham community.Saxmundham has capacity for 108 children in each year group and on opening has 324 spaces in Years 7, 8 and 9. The article reveals that only 98 children have applied. This is a drop from the 132 revealed to have expressed an interest earlier this year.
As Flintoff reveals this makes the school 70% empty on opening. This in itself would probably be national news if not for the fact Beccles Free School will be 90% empty.
It is difficult to know why there has been such a decline in interest but there is speculation that at least some of this is collateral damage from what is happening up the road in Beccles. Transport and the attitude of the Seckford Foundation to special educational needs could also be factors.
Whatever the reasons despite an advertising campaign the numbers for both Seckford schools are falling rather than rising. We are seeing parental choice in action here, but not quite in the way Seckford - who put posters up saying your child, your choice - expected.