Stoke-by-Nayland: Boost for free school plan

A PROPOSED free school in west Suffolk has reached a major milestone after the Government announced the project had cleared another hurdle.

The Department for Education’s announcement was welcomed yesterday by campaigners hoping to set up the new school in Stoke-by-Nayland, near Sudbury, by September 2013.

Ronan Connolly, a member of the Stoke-by-Nayland Save Our School (SOS) group, said he was delighted to see the proposal reach stage three of the application process.

He said: “This is great news for the people of south Suffolk and a wonderful reflection of all the hard work and effort from across the team that has got us to this stage.

“The news is still sinking in and I don’t want to sound too triumphant because we still have a long way to go, but this reaffirms that we are on our way to opening a new school in Suffolk by September 2013.”

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SOS members will be meeting with a team from the Department for Education next week to set out the agenda for the next stage which will require a business case and plan to be submitted.

The idea for the new school for 11 to 16-year-olds came after Stoke-by-Nayland Middle School was earmarked for closure under Suffolk County Council’s move to a blanket two-tier system across the county. The middle school is due to close in 2013.

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If a new free school – a central education policy in the Conservative Party’s pre-election manifesto – is achieved in Stoke-by-Nayland it could result in two new schools straddling Sudbury after the Stour Valley Community School, in Clare, reached the same stage in September.

Only 25 school proposals have achieved this across England so far.

Mr Connolly added: “We are confident that we can create something really exciting in this part of Suffolk that will be a massive asset to the community.”

According to the Department for 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.

The policy has come under criticism for being elitist and potentially damaging to the funding of state schools close to the proposed free schools.

Earlier this year, Lord Philips of Sudbury told the House of Lords that a new school in Stoke-by-Nayland would siphon off pupils from more middle-class families, leaving existing schools like Great Cornard Upper with a depleted intake and less funding.

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.”

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