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Suffolk: Controversy as new Beccles and Saxmundham free schools set to be half full

PUBLISHED: 09:00 01 August 2012

Rob Cawley, principal of the Seckford Foundation Trust

Rob Cawley, principal of the Seckford Foundation Trust

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ONLY 168 pupils have so far signed up for two new Suffolk free schools set to open in a few weeks time - a little more than half the capacity for the sites.

The controversial schools in Beccles and Saxmundham are set to open with vast sums of money being provided by the government - between £4 and £5million.

Last month the Beccles Free School, which will be based in the short-term at the now closed Carlton Colville Primary School, hit the national headlines when it emerged that only 37 pupils had applied for places.

The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, which runs the prestigious and private Woodbridge School and is behind both new projects, says that number is now up to 64.

The Saxmundham Free School has 104 pupils but both are currently well below the initial 300 projection and even the scaled-back student target of 162 set out in the application forms approved by the Department for Education last month, a figure used to calculate start-up costs.

Beccles Free School currently has 16 students signed-up for year seven, 24 students on the roll for year eight and 24 students enrolled for year nine, giving it a total of 64.

It is opening at the same time that Sir John Leman school in Lowestoft takes on 11 and 12-year-old pupils for the first time as part of Suffolk County Council’s school organisation review, which is seeing Suffolk shift to a completely two-tier education system.

Campaigners say it will have a negative impact on education in the area and divert much-needed funding away from Sir John Leman at a time of transition for the academy.

The free school will eventually be based at Beccles Middle School, which will be closed and the site redeveloped by 2014.

Saxmundham Free School currently has 26 students signed-up for year seven, 27 students enrolled for year eight and 51 students ready for year nine. This amounts to 104 overall.

Rob Cawley, principal of the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, said both Beccles and Saxmundham sites had seen a “steady increase” in student numbers since being given the go-ahead and continued to accept applications.

Mr Cawley said: “Preparations for the start of term are well under way for both Saxmundham and Beccles Free Schools. The foundation is pleased with the continued rise in student numbers for both schools and is confident that more and more people will take up the freedom of choice in their child’s future education over the coming weeks.”

Suffolk already has one free school - the Stour valley Community School in Clare - and like Beccles and Saxmundham, the Breckland Free School at Brandon will open in September.

The Seckford Foundation’s plans for another free school in Stoke-by-Nayland were rejected, while a scheme for a free school based around the teachings of the Maharishi in Woodbridge were also refused funding by the government.

Graham White, county secretary of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers, said: “The idea of free schools sounds like a good idea - the problem is they are funded by the government at huge expense and they provide a narrow curriculum. They are essentially divisive because they take money and pupils away from the local schools.

“You look at the amount of money that was spent on the Stour Valley Community School - that was £5.3million and that was the set-up cost and free schools are funded on potential roll, rather than the actual roll.

“The government is not putting any money into education but it’s putting it into free schools and academies, which are for such a small minority of pupils.

“There is no shortage of places and there is no need for a free school. There is no need in Suffolk.”

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