West Suffolk: Revealed - the true cost of free schools

Saxmundham Free School Head Teacher Rob Cawley and students

Saxmundham Free School Head Teacher Rob Cawley and students - Credit: Archant

More than £11million has been spent to start up two free schools in west Suffolk which remain under-capacity.

The total start up costs for IES Breckland in Brandon and Stour Valley Community School in Clare were £11,102,237.

Those behind the schools say there is growing demand for places, but Graham White, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the NUT, said free schools were “divisive and not needed”.

A total of £5,070,790 was spent to start up IES Breckland, while Stour Valley Community School cost £6,031,447 to set up.

On top of the cost of acquiring sites for the schools the funding includes £720,036 and £1,048,167 respectively for pre and post-opening expenses.

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These expenses are awarded by the Department for Education on top of the schools’ per-pupil funding. They cover outstanding costs for expenditure such as recruitment and marketing as well as books and equipment.

Pupil numbers for both schools remain below capacity. Currently IES Breckland has 316 pupils, up from 207 in September last year, but below the 100 pupil capacity for its four year-groups.

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Stour Valley Community School has grown to include 465 pupils from 170 when it opened in September 2011. However total capacity for the school is 575.

The funding figures have been published on the Department for Education website.

They also show that the Beccles and Saxmundham Free Schools received £2,093,627.88 in funding for pre and post-opening expenses. Final capital funding for these schools has not yet been published.

Pupil numbers at Beccles and Saxmundham Free Schools are 195 and 170 respectively, however the schools have capacity for 216 and 324 pupils.

Headteacher at Stour Valley Community School, Christine Inchley, said the investment represented good value for money.

“Certainly we are not up to our eyeballs in money,” she said. “Our funding is now based on the pupils we have in school. We get the same as anybody else does.”

She cited the school’s progress and their first Ofsted report, published in July, which rated the school as “Good” overall.

“Everything is going very well and we’re pleased with the way it’s going,” she added.

Tim Lakin, business development manager at IES Breckland said the school allowed children in Brandon to study in their own town.

“International English Schools UK Breckland is on target to reach capacity next year, which has always been the plan,” he said. “We opened just last year with year-groups seven to nine, and are adding a year-group each September, bringing us to around 450 students by next academic year.

“That is 450 students a year who will be educated in their local community, rather than being bussed off to other towns, spending a significant portion of each day commuting.”

Rob Cawley, principal of the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust which runs Beccles and Saxmnundham Free Schools, said: “The investment provides opportunity and choice for the young people in the area of Saxmundham and Beccles/Carlton Colville and the value will be proved in the coming years as standards and aspirations in those young people are raised.”

However, Graham White, secretary at Suffolk NUT, said: “Imagine what benefits £11m could have done if it was spread around all the primary schools.

“We could do so much better in Suffolk if that money was targeted at the pupils who really needed it rather than the selected few.

“Free schools are expensive, divisive and they are not needed.”

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