Ministerial boost for free school campaign

A CAMPAIGN group fighting to set up a “free” school in Suffolk have moved a step closer after meeting the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

Representatives from the Stoke by Nayland Save Our School (SOS) group handed him the second part of their application to secure a school in the village on Wednesday night at the London Guildhall.

The group’s goal, boosted by the government’s education policy supporting free schools, is to see a secondary school created in Stoke by Nayland when the current middle school closes in 2013.

SOS member Ronan Connolly said: “More than 20 free school proposals have come in from across the country but ours is one of the first to get this far.

“Mr Gove was very supportive of our application and I believe we now have a credible proposal in place.”


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Mr Connolly said education was a very emotive subject and he was aware that some people did not support the free school policy.

“It is time to adjust and be objective to these changes. This is now government policy and when the school is up and running all the schools in this area, including Cornard and Sudbury upper, will need to work together to create the best schools for our children,” he added.

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Despite the group’s optimism, their plans have been criticised by Graham White, secretary of Suffolk’s National Union of Teachers and a teacher at Great Cornard Upper School.

He claimed a new school in Stoke by Nayland would only be able to offer a narrow curriculum and poor facilities.

“I am pro-choice but it needs to be based on evidence and clear information,” Mr White said.

“Choice for some, however, often means others lose out. I am concerned this choice will be the minority of well-off, articulate and knowledgable parents gaining choice at the expense of a significant majority of other parents.”

He said the free school system, based on the Swedish model, had resulted in falling standards in the Scandinavian country over the past 15 years.

“I believe the arguments for an 11-16 school [in Stoke by Nayland] to be both wasteful and unnecessary and will reduce the educational achievement overall of pupils in the local area. A third school is unviable and impracticable.”

According to the Department of Education free schools will enjoy the same freedoms as academies, which are publicly-funded independent schools, free from local authority control.

Other freedoms include setting their own pay and conditions for staff, freedom from following the National Curriculum and the ability to change the lengths of their terms and school days. All free schools will be accountable like other state schools via inspections and tests.

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