A GOVERNMENT adviser has launched a broadside against free school protesters, claiming local opposition campaigns had an adverse affect on admission numbers.

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Henry de Zoete, special adviser to the education secretary, said enrolment had increased at Beccles Free School in spite of local scepticism surrounding its opening in September.

He also called for the shadow education secretary to “come clean” and say whether the opposition would now support free schools.

But Graham White, Suffolk’s secretary for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and an outspoken critic of free schools, maintained that admission remained inadequate and labelled the entire system “unnecessary”.

The debate resurfaced following news that Beccles Free School now has 102 pupils on the register - a near threefold increase from the 37 applications made following the school’s approval, and a 50% rise in the number of pupils that started term in September.

Mr de Zoete said Labour had attacked the government for investing in free schools. He added: “Stephen Twigg and Labour now have to come clean with the parents and children at Beccles Free School and say whether they will shut the school down or not.”

But NUT secretary Mr White pointing out that the school is still short of filling its 162 pupil capacity. He added: “I’m no statistician but I see that figure as fairly appalling.

“We are absolutely diametrically opposed to free schools and see no reason for them to exist.

“There is no need to turn existing sites into free schools or to build new ones. Local authority schools are being closed down and given away. We would hope they are closed down.

“If people want to set up and independent school, they should find the money and run it as a business.”

Under-Secretary of State for Schools, Lord Hill of Oareford, said numbers had climbed steadily at the school, which will be based in Carton Colville for two years before moving to the former Beccles Middle School next September.

Graham Watson, director of The Seckford Foundation, which backed the establishment of the school, said: “Beccles Free School was certainly subject to a great deal of negative publicity, but we were determined to open the school as we knew from talking to parents in the area they were looking for opportunity and choice for their children.

Mr Watson added that large numbers of prospective pupils and parents attended a recent open evening to find out about places at the school for September this year.

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