Ixworth: Ixworth Free School a ‘threat’ to education in area say NUT

The new Ixworth Free School opens its doors.

The new Ixworth Free School opens its doors. - Credit: Archant

Education in a part of west Suffolk is being “put at risk” by the opening of a new free school, a teaching union has claimed.

Following its opening on Monday, Ixworth Free School has been accused of being “under subscribed” and “over funded”.

But last night bosses at the school said the opening was in direct response to a “strong request” from the local community for increased choice in education, while a parent who backed the project from the beginning said it was the “most suitable” option for his children. However Graham White, Suffolk secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “Ixworth Free School is taking a number of pupils from schools in the surrounding area such as Thurston (Community College).

“This means schools have less funding as they are paid per pupil. It makes planning very difficult, as you never know if a new school will be opened.

“It is also given funding on the basis of expected pupil numbers, something that Ixworth like many others, have failed to reach.

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“I believe they are over-funded for the amount of pupils they teach, which leaches money away from other schools. It has put education in the west Suffolk area at risk.”

He said the area had lost some “brilliant teachers”, which had “further damaged” education.

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Dr Robert Cawley, principal of the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, which operates Ixworth Free School, said: “The opening of the Ixworth Free School is in direct response to the strong request by the local community for opportunity and choice for the future education of their children.

“The recruitment process for teaching and support staff was open to all candidates and we selected the best candidate for each role.

“We already have 138 students in Ixworth Free School and judging by the number of enquiries we have had in the first few days we expect that number to rise.

“In line with other schools we manage, we often find that once a school is up and running it attracts new students. At Beccles we have added some 200 students since the date we opened.”

Geoff Barton, headteacher at nearby King Edward IV Comprehensive School, in Bury St Edmunds, felt that Mr White was being a bit extreme, but did express concern.

“I wish the school every success, in fact I know the headteacher and there are young people in the area who need education,” he said.

“I have expressed concern about the free schools policy from the beginning because it seems to be putting schools in an area where there are already surplus places.

“There have been problems with the other trust schools. If a free school is being opened in an area where there are already places then I have concerns. But I would never wish a school to fail.

“I believe that the local authority should be able to plan and open schools over the wider area. The policy treats schools like they are supermarkets in competition with each other, if too many open up, prices go down or some fail, but children are not like a can of beans - their education is something far more valuable.”

Thurston Community College had previously highlighted issues with the creation of Ixworth free school in January this year.

The college claimed a lack of engagement on the part of the Seckford Foundation could “compromise the drive for higher standards for all pupils” in the area.

However, Stephen Larder, who has two of his three children at the school in Ixworth, feels the school, which he pushed for, will be a benefit to education in Suffolk.

The 47-year-old, who lives in Bardwell, said: “It gives the community more choice and should help raise standards.

“For me the school is far more suitable for what I want for my children. It is smaller than Thurston, which is a very big school.

“I think it is wrong to suggest it will damage education in any way.

“I would have preferred the middle school not to close, but out of it we have got a great school at the heart of our community.”

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