Free school policy criticised by Suffolk peer

A LIBERAL Democrat peer has slammed government education policy saying proposals for a free school in west Suffolk would lead to segregation and financial hardship for one of the most improved schools in the county.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury criticised the government’s free school agenda in a speech to the House of Lords, highlighting the threat he said it would pose to the future of Great Cornard Upper School if one was built within its catchment area.

A high profile campaign is currently being run by the Stoke by Nayland Save Our School group who want to see a free school set up in the village by 2013.

But Lord Phillips said the proposal would siphon off pupils from the more middle-class families, leaving existing schools with a depleted intake.

During his speech last month Lord Phillips said the policy would widen the gap between the best and worst schools.

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He said: “Cornard school will lose 40% of its intake. That will create real viability problems with huge cuts in staff, massive disruption and consequent denting of morale in a school which this year has received a certificate from the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust stating that it is one of the most improved schools in Suffolk.”

He said he was urging the government to include a clause that would only allow a new school in an area where, on balance, it would improve the education not only for its own pupils but for those of adjacent schools.

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Free schools were a central education policy in the Conservative Party’s manifesto before the election.

A spokesman from the Department of Education said allowing teachers to set up their own schools would give all children access to the kind of education only the rich could afford.

In a letter sent out to parents by Mike Foley, head teacher at Great Cornard Upper, he said the impact of a new school in Stoke by Nayland would put the future prospects of his school at serious risk.

He said: “Scarce educational budgets would be wasted on attempting to sustain two sites, quite apart from the huge investment needed for new buildings at Stoke.”

Lord Phillips said that there would be a massive cost in creating a new school which could cost the local authority up to �4 million at a time when Cornard desperately needed to modernise existing buildings - including ten classrooms that currently leaked when it rained.

“It is fruitless to pretend that the capital expenditure on these new schools will not affect the budgets and incomes of the existing maintained schools,” he added.

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