THE leader of Suffolk County Council has raised concerns about the need for a controversial new free school.

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Mark Bee will attend an extraordinary Waveney District Council scrutiny committee meeting next week to air his views on the Beccles Free School, which he says is in the wrong place and is “woefully” under-subscribed to succeed.

The school, backed by the Seckford Foundation Free School Trust, was officially given the go-ahead from the Department for Education last month and will open its doors in September.

The site is set to start the new school year with just 64 pupils – less than half the number used to form the basis of its application to the Government.

Mr Bee, a Conservative county councillor who also represents Worlingham on Waveney District Council, said he was supportive of free schools, but only where they are appropriate.

Mr Bee said: “Certainly as a concept, I think that free schools are a way forward that we clearly need to take because there’s a lot of money being spent on education in Suffolk and we have not been the most successful county when it comes to results.

“So I’m not against the principle of free schools, I want to see them thrive. I think it’s because of wanting to see them thrive that I think they have got to be in the right place and I think that there has got to be a real assessment of the capacity for a free school to thrive, given catchment area and given the original education arrangements in that area.

“As far as Beccles is concerned, I don’t think it fulfils that criteria. So you could have a free school that fails and you could actually damage a school that’s been long established and which is an academy, that’s the Sir John Leman High School. I’m for free schools – but they have got to be in the right place.”

Mr Bee, a former student at Sir John Leman, said that the school had faced “challenges” but there was now an opportunity for it to move forward, as part of the two-tier school organisation review.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous will also speak at the meeting on August 7.

Mr Aldous said he maintained his view that their was not the demand for the new free school, no need for additional places and that the impact of the school organisation review and extensive work by Suffolk County Council in the area should be allowed to “work through” before any other proposals are considered.

Rob Cawley, principal of the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, said he expected “opportunity for choice” to be the driving force behind student recruitment for both Beccles and Saxmundham Free Schools.

Mr Cawley said: “We have been delighted to support the creation of news schools in Suffolk by bringing the foundation’s extensive experience and integrity to these initiatives. The Foundation remains confident that numbers will continue to rise for Beccles and Saxmundham in the coming weeks as more and more people take up the freedom of choice in their child’s future education. We are well on track for opening in September.”

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