Is this value for public money?

Fiona Millar's picture
The Seckford Foundation assured the DfE there were “over 500” people interested in the Beccles free school in Suffolk. The Foundation, which runs a number of private schools, plans to open the free school this year, in spite of  massive opposition from the local community, including the local Tory MP.

Their proposed site – Beccles Middle School – was to have 324 places:

Y7:       108 

Y8:       108

Y9:       108

The site they were forced to use, following a successful campaign by the local community– Carlton Colville Primary School – has 162 places:

Y7:       54 

Y8:       54

Y9:       54

The official figures from the Suffolk Admissions team for the new school are as follows:

Y7:       10 

Y8:       15

Y9:       12

There will be a total of 37 pupils in the school in September . The Guardian has done a fuller version of this story here. Apparently the DFE will fully fund the school based on its planned pupil numbers although apparently excess funds will be recouped later . It is also paying for the conversion of the existing primary school. The community spoke, no-one listened and now a lot of public money is being wasted.

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Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 29/06/2012 - 09:23

The consultation about the establishment of Beccles Free School showed only 21 parents signed the consultation to say they were in favour of the free school. A parallel petition showed that about 3,000 of locals were against the free school. The DfE ignored both of these results and went ahead.

Full details are available here:

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 29/06/2012 - 09:31

I noticed that the DfE was repeating its argument that performance in Suffolk had been below the national average for years. However, this is misleading. Average results in Suffolk were 2% below the national average for just one year (2011). Suffolk’s average was only 1% below the national average for two years and actually exceeded the national average in 2007.

In any case, a county average is irrelevant in a decision about a local school. What matters is the local situation. The performance of a school in Felixstowe is meaningless to Beccles. In 2011, Sir John Leman High in Beccles scored above the Suffolk average by 3%, and the national average by 1%.

This is yet another example of misleading data being published by the DfE.

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 29/06/2012 - 10:04

Even if performance was an issue - the evidence to support the idea that only free schools and academies can rectify that is vanishing fast according to the DFE's own stats.

Sarah's picture
Fri, 29/06/2012 - 13:48

The other factor in Suffolk is that they have a three tier system which the closure of the middle schools was supposed to address. It has been shown that there is a dip in performance at each transition point and that three tier education systems produce poorer results than you would otherwise expect given the intake of schools, something which the Schools Adjudicator acknowledged when upholding the proposals. Of course it will not be possible to judge whether this would or wouldn't have been addressed through the school reorganisation as it has effectively been scuppered by the Academy conversion and free school applications.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 29/06/2012 - 17:31

A key requirement for setting up a free school is "evidence of demand". There were questions about the validity of the evidence of demand when Beccles Free School was first proposed. Did it comprise genuine demand for a new school or were the signatures collected to save a middle school? Even if the signatories really did want a new school, only 21 of them bothered to sign the public consultation. This would suggest a dramatic dip in demand.

Undeterred, the DfE gave the school the go-ahead and the Seckford Foundation says that it now expects demand to creep up.

Sorry, but according to the DfE's own regulations, and the Academies Act 2010, there must be evidence of demand before final approval. A school should not be established where there is no need at great public expense in the hope that demand may follow or that time will tell.

Demand is supposed to come first.

Mr Chas's picture
Fri, 29/06/2012 - 12:27

It will be interesting to see where this ends up. Three events for parents were held this week in Beccles. Come and meet the team stuff. They were well attended and interest was high. Time will tell.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 29/06/2012 - 12:50

Seckford says:

"We wouldn't expect applications to be much higher at this point because it's only been two or three weeks since the agreement that we could go ahead.

"Once the head teacher is on our staff on Monday, what tends to happen is that pupil numbers increase and we are expecting to reach the numbers that we planned for."

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