Lowestoft and Beccles headteacher opposition to free school
HEAD teachers in Lowestoft and Beccles have joined forces to oppose controversial plans for Waveney's first free school.
In a letter sent to thousands of parents and carers, they describe the proposals submitted by the Woodbridge-based Seckford Foundation as a 'waste of money', say it 'will affect the future' of their own students and warn that it could 'damage' other local schools, if given the go-ahead.
The letter is co-signed by Perry Linsley, of Pakefield High; Michael Lincoln, of Denes High; Jeremy Rowe, of Sir John Leman; Andrew Hine, of Benjamin Britten and Liz Redpath, of East Point Academy.
In it they express their concerns over the plans, which have also drawn criticism from teaching unions and prompted a petition.
But this week the Seckford Foundation insisted that its proposals had been drawn up in response to genuine interest in the area and that the new school would provide a choice for parents.
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Last month, The Journal reported that the Seckford Foundation was looking to open the new free school on the site of Carlton Colville Primary School from September after it emerged that its first choice – Beccles Middle School – would be unavailable until the summer of 2014.
But with the proposals being seen as a potential threat to Lowestoft's education system, the head teachers' letter – which has been seen by The Journal – highlights the alarm the plans have caused.
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The letter states: 'We are writing to parents and carers to set out our concerns about the proposal by the Seckford Foundation to open a free school in our area.
'Funding for free schools is made directly by the Department for Education (DfE), but the funds are withdrawn by the DfE from the local authority. In this case it would mean that this temporary arrangement at Carlton Colville would see funds withdrawn from Suffolk County Council to refurbish the primary school classrooms and make them usable for secondary education for just two years. This will involve considerable costs,' the letter adds.
'As head teachers, we are convinced that the free school will reduce what we are able to offer our own pupils and sixth form students as taxpayers' money is diverted away from our schools. This will affect the future for our pupils and students.
'We also feel that building another secondary school in our area is a waste of money, when there are already enough school places for every student to have a choice...
'Local people have rejected the free school. However, it is still possible for the government to give this project the go-ahead, despite the damage it will do to our local schools. Any students who actually attend the free school will do so in unsuitable premises and will have to undergo major disruption if the school moves to Beccles after two years.'
Calling on people to oppose the free school plans, it concludes: 'The free school would mean more huge unsettling changes for our children. We, as taxpayers, will be expected to pay for it financially. Our children will have to pay in terms of their futures. Please join us in making your views known.'
For the past few weeks, a group of about 25 local people – including parents of high school students – have taken to the streets of Lowestoft and Beccles to campaign against the plans. They are calling on local people to say 'No to Beccles free school' and sign their petition.
One of the campaigners, Ian Goodyer, 52, from Worlingham, said: 'We now have many hundreds of signatures against the free school. While we have been out petitioning what we have realised is there is a widespread sense of anger at what the Seckford Foundation are doing. The group is a mixture of parents and concerned locals who have come together against the damaging effects the free school will have on Beccles.'
The campaigners also held a recent action meeting for people wishing to get involved and they plan to continue their campaign by petitioning in Lowestoft and Beccles 'until the end' of the consultation period.
For its part, the Seckford Foundation says it has also had 'keen interest' at recent drop-in sessions held at Carlton Colville and Beccles to inform people about its plans. Graham Watson, its director, said: 'When we were contacted by members of the local community in Beccles, they made it very clear they were looking for more choice for educating young people in the town. We looked into the situation and it became quite clear there was a need for a smaller and more academically-focused school.
'While we understand some people may have concerns about this change we see it as a clear opportunity to respond to a demand in the community for choice.'
The public consultation continues until February 28.
Waveney MP Peter Aldous said: 'I would encourage everyone who is interested in this situation to make their views clear on the issue – I also want to hear from people in the next 10 days.'
He added that the representations and feedback received would form part of a 'long letter' he planned to send to the government once the consultation ended.
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