Saxmundham: Headteacher criticises free school bid
09:00 30 June 2012
A HEADTEACHER last night questioned the need for a new free school in his catchment area - with less than 100 pupils signed up to enrol.
The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust confirmed that just 98 pupils have enlisted for a place at Saxmundham Free School, which is set to open in September. However it stressed that applications were still coming in and that numbers were expected to rise.
Ian Flintoff, heacteacher at nearby Leiston High School - which will be the Alde Valley School in September and accepts pupils from the Saxmundham area - criticised the trust for its late notification on student numbers, while also saying the low intake showed another school was unnecessary.
“The late notification of the free school has been highly problematical,” he said. “We didn’t find out until Wednesday which pupils on our list had also enrolled for Saxmundham. That’s three days before we start our induction sessions for our new intake and just 17 days before the end of term. It’s a very tight deadline and has created all sorts of practical problems in relation to organising timetables and staffing. Our re-organisation plans have been ongoing for two years. They are at a late stage and its very hard to change things.”
The Seckford Foundation is also behind the helm of the Beccles Free School - which so far has received just 37 applications.
Mr Flintoff continued: “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.”
The Saxmundham Free School will open on the site of the town’s former middle school, which closes next month as part of Suffolk County Council’s education reshuffle. It will initially accept youngsters aged from 11 to 14 (years 7, 8 and 9) but by 2014 years 10 and 11 will also be on roll.
Many parents had expressed support for the school because they were concerned with the lack of post-11 education in Saxmundham following the closure of the middle school.
Rob Cawley, principal of the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, said: “The average academic standards across the county are below the national average and the aim of the Trust in establishing a free school in Saxmundham is to help drive up those standards so that young people can have greater opportunities either in further education or the workplace.”