Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

21 for, 3,000 against - but Free School Will Go Ahead: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

21 for, 3,000 against - but Free School Will Go Ahead: News

Article excerpt

Approval of Beccles proposal labelled a 'tragedy' by local head.

Opponents of one of the country's most controversial free school proposals have vowed to appeal against the decision by ministers to approve the plans, describing it as an "extraordinary waste of public money".

Beccles Free School in Suffolk was finally approved by the Department for Education at the end of May after a long and, its biggest critics say, "grubby" battle was fought to prevent the school from opening its doors in September.

Schools minister Lord Hill gave the proposed secondary the green light despite an official consultation into its viability showing that it was supported by just 21 parents in the area.

Jeremy Rowe, headteacher of Sir John Leman High School, a recently converted academy that will be directly affected by the school opening, labelled the decision a "tragedy", pointing to a petition signed by more than 3,000 people as proof that Beccles Free School was not wanted locally.

"It's an extraordinary decision, especially when you consider the weight of public opposition to the free school," Mr Rowe said. "Even the local Tory MP came out against it. Just 21 parents have brought this school into being, and they have done so because it is a Tory pet project."

Mr Rowe claimed it would be "impossible" for two secondaries to be successful in a town with a population of just 9,000, adding that the creation of a new free school could mean Sir John Leman will be forced to reconsider its curriculum.

"There is no way that we will be able to maintain everything we offer as a school if another opens up around the corner," the head said. "It's an absolute tragedy. We will appeal the decision, but people now have little faith that they will be successful. After all, it is the government that they are fighting against, and they are despairing over it."

The conflict over the Beccles proposal has become increasingly bitter since the plans were put forward last year by parents backed by private school charity the Seckford Foundation.

At the very start of the application, the bid team proposed to establish the Beccles Free School in buildings already promised to Sir John Leman - a move that was heavily opposed.

But the row grew even more heated earlier this year after it transpired that the man appointed to act as an independent adjudicator as part of the public consultation on the free school's viability was later hired as the school's executive principal. …

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