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Ixworth: New free school gets the final go-ahead from Department of Education after funding agreement

12:09 01 March 2014

Nikola King, who has been appointed head teacher of Ixworth Free School, which has been given final approval by the Department of Education.

Nikola King, who has been appointed head teacher of Ixworth Free School, which has been given final approval by the Department of Education.

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A new 600-place free school will open in west Suffolk in September after getting the government go-ahead yesterday – with an MP claiming it will offer parents “choice”.

Ministers have confirmed funding for Ixworth Free School, despite concerns it is not needed because spare places already exist at many other schools in the area.

The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust (SFFST), which will run Ixworth, received a letter from the Department for Education yesterday morning to say that funding for it had been agreed.

Nikola King, appointed headteacher at the school in January, said the news meant the SFFST could “progress with our recruitment drive” and added that they would enlist teachers nationally, “to ensure we have the very best professionals in place when we welcome our first students in September.”

This year will see pupils admitted in Years 7, 8 and 9, with Year 10 admissions from September next year and Year 11 in 2016.

Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, welcomed the funding agreement as a “great outcome for parents, pupils and the community”.

“The parent-led team that have signed the funding agreement with the Department for Education have done brilliantly campaigning to keep a school in Ixworth,” he said.

“I am delighted that the agreement has been signed and will be giving local people the choice of having their children attend a local school.”

However the announcement was not universally welcomed. The secretary of Suffolk NUT, Graham White, said it was a “great shame” that the school would be going ahead.

“Mr Gove has always said that free schools would only be set up for areas with a shortage of places, but it’s the complete opposite in this case,” he said.

“It’s pure politics and not about education. The Seckford Foundation already has loads of schools and they’re under-subscribed. They’re not needed, they’re very expensive, and they won’t provide the quality education our pupils need.

“It’s benefitting the few at the expense of the many.”

Last month the EADT revealed that the Ixworth Free School would open in an area of pupil surplus. Figures held by Suffolk County Council show that in nine schools within a 20 mile radius there is a total surplus of 374 places.

In a public consultation into Ixworth held by the SFFST some neighbouring schools expressed concern about a lack of dialogue from the SFFST in order to help them prepare for the effects the school’s opening might have.

The group, Suffolk Coalition Opposing Free Schools (SCOFS), took part in the consultation. Martin Campbell, from the group, claimed the school would be “very small”, with a “limited curriculum” and “not suitable” for all pupils.

He said: “It’s very disappointing that the evidence that SCOFS put forward to the consultation was ignored and the evidence that they put to the House of Commons education select committee was ignored.

“It’s so disappointing because it means that the funding has been secured despite the fact that there’s a repeat of what we saw in Beccles and Saxmundham in that a very large amount of parental support is claimed but when it comes down to it the number of favourable responses to the consultation is tiny.”

A spokesman for Thurston Community College, the nearest secondary school to Ixworth, wrote in the consultation: “It is concerned that the opening of a free school that does not work with other local schools will compromise the drive for higher standards for all pupils.”

However the principal of the SFFST, Dr Rob Cawley, said that was because the school had not yet received their funding agreement it could not make plans with other schools until they were certain the school would open.

“We did not feel it appropriate at that stage to over-burden them with our plans for what is essentially only a proposed school,” he said.

The consultation showed overwhelming support for Ixworth Free School, of 81 people surveyed, 72 were in favour of the school.

Yesterday Dr Cawley said: “We are very pleased to receive the approval of the funding agreement from the Secretary of State. Ixworth Free School will promote academic excellence with a strong pastoral care element to enable every student to achieve success in their education.

“With the forecast of a rise in population in this area of Suffolk this new school will provide the opportunity and choice for both future and existing parents as well as meeting the demands which were clearly outlined by parents in this community for a new school.”

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