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The most popular secondary schools in Suffolk revealed as 300 Ipswich parents miss out on their first choice

PUBLISHED: 09:10 03 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:17 03 March 2017

Ixworth Free School, placed in the bottom 10 of sought-after schools in Suffolk for September 2017, according to school places data. Pictured are headteacher Nikola King and Graham Watson, of the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust.

Ixworth Free School, placed in the bottom 10 of sought-after schools in Suffolk for September 2017, according to school places data. Pictured are headteacher Nikola King and Graham Watson, of the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust.

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Almost 300 Ipswich parents missed out on their preferred secondary school this year while more than half of the total places at Beccles, Ixworth and Saxmundham free schools were not filled.

The exclusive Suffolk County Council (SCC) figures expose the growing pressures on places and intensifying competition among parents seeking the best schools for their 11-year-olds as they move into Year 7.

There is a soaring demand for secondary school places in east Ipswich, with almost 300 parents denied the first choice for their children because Northgate, Copleston and Kesgrave are full.

However, the data also shows how free schools in Suffolk remain undersubscribed after struggling to attract parents deciding on the future of their children. Allocations are made up of first, second and third choices.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer has disclosed initial plans to build two new schools as heads warn they cannot keep adding Year 7 classes.

It comes after 93% of Suffolk families found out they had secured a place at their top choice of secondary school for September 2017.

The verified SCC data is correct as of March 1. It shows more than half of the total places at Beccles, Ixworth and Saxmundham free schools were not filled (196 out of 360). They comprise three of the bottom 10 schools in Suffolk, along with six academies and one maintained school.

Free schools, a legacy of former education secretary Michael Gove, are a type of academy funded by and accountable to the government. It is thought the Beccles and Ixworth free schools each cost the taxpayer £5-7 million.

NUT executive member for Suffolk, Graham White, said “notable examples” of undersubscribed were free schools near other schools.

He said: “Free schools were expensive to set up, funded unfairly and, based on these figures, not needed.”

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, added: “Far too much money is being spent on pet projects such as free schools.”

Beccles and Saxmundham opened in 2012. Ixworth opened two years later. At Saxmundham, 37% of students gained a grade C or better in English and maths last summer. It was 47% at Beccles. Ixworth has its first GCSE students this year.

All GCSE students study philosophy and ethics, as well as art, music, design technology and traditional subjects.

A statement from Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, which runs the free schools, said their figures were based on applications made by last October and expect figures to “increase significantly”.

It added: “All three schools have had considerable interest over the past month with many families visiting with a view to applying for September 2017.

“The Beccles, Ixworth and Saxmundham communities identified the need for additional opportunity and choice of education for their children and our three free schools are responding to that need.”

Meanwhile, there were 291 refusals for school places at Northgate, Copleston, St Albans, in Ipswich, and Kesgrave High School. Only 250 places remain at the town’s nine high schools.

Mr Gummer said: “I am well aware of the pressure on numbers, and the situation will only get more difficult as there is population growth coming through primary school.

“That is why today I am having two separate meetings about two new school sites where I am bringing developers from the councils together in order that we can bring forward the construction of the schools, in one case by a matter of several years.

“I hope that in the weeks and months ahead, we will have some good news.”

He said one would be a primary and the other would be a “big” secondary. No further details were disclosed.

David Hutton, headteacher at Northgate High School, said governors agreed a 10-form entry for 2017/18 as a “one-off”, with a nine-form entry placing “great strain” on the timetable. He said: “We simply cannot repeat this.”

Kesgrave High School has added an extra year seven class for the last three years. Head Nigel Burgoyne said it would be difficult to add more, saying: “We are trying to cope with the growth.”

Elsewhere, East Point Academy principal Richard Dolding said the figure was “meaningless” as they are a “hangover” of the Lowestoft revamp of schools, and said student numbers are rising.

An Alde Valley Academy spokesman said: “The number of spare places available at the academy is largely due to the increase in school places within the catchment area.”

A spokesman for Ormiston Endeavour Academy in Ipswich said: “There will be a significant number of applications in the second round. We are a rapidly improving school.”

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