Saxmundham: Eyebrows raised by free school appointment

A FORMER headteacher who chaired a consultation into a free school proposal could be in line to oversee its first term.

Union leaders have raised doubt over the appointment of Rob Cawley to supervise the opening of the school in Saxmundham, having acted as independent chairman of a public meeting into the bid.

But the group behind the bid insist he had no influence over the consultation and that the position was open to all candidates.

His recruitment comes after Alex Hayes, vice-principal of the Open Academy in Norwich, withdrew for personal reasons.

Mr Cawley, who has already been hired as the principal designate for the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, will oversee the opening term. The Cambridge graduate was, until last August, executive head at Deben and Orwell High Schools, including Felixstowe Sixth Form, leading both to single academy status.

Government approval is yet to be made on bids in Saxmundham and Beccles but the decision to employ Mr Cawley to oversee the launch of a school he chaired a consultation into has been met with some scepticism. Graham White, regional secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “If you’re a conspiracy theorist, this will just prove what you already believe. It seems a little strange that someone who was head of a school that became an academy, and then gets a job as chairman of a free school consultation, is employed to oversee its first term.

“It seems suspicious but we clearly don’t know the reasons for Alex Hayes not taking the role and it does not change our view of free schools, about which we have major reservations.

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“Despite the bid still being up in the air, the trust has decided to start offering contracts to staff on the assumption that the school will open in September.”

Cambridge Education - employed by the Government to analyse if the bids were viable - said Mr Cawley’s job as chairman had been completed before he applied to be principal designate.

The trust, which has also appointed John Lucas, director of learning at the Thomas Clarkson Community College in Wisbech, as head of the proposed Beccles school, said recruitment is made subject to Government approval of each bid. Director Graham Watson added: “Mr Cawley was asked by Cambridge Education to be an independent chair for two public meetings which were part of the overall statutory consultation process for the proposed Beccles and Saxmundham Free Schools. In that role he had no influence over the questions asked, the responses given or the report of the meeting. He also had no input into the consultation report.

“At that time of the meetings the Seckford Foundation had not made the decision to have a principal for the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust. However when we carried out the recruitment process it was open to all candidates.”