Beccles school considers becoming an academy

Education in Beccles came under the spotlight this week as it emerged that the town’s Sir John Leman High School is considering becoming an academy.

Earlier this week headteacher Jeremy Rowe gave parents the chance to have their say, as he revealed that the move could see the school gain �220,000 in the first year.

Mr Rowe said he felt the school had come to a T-junction and needed to decide whether to become an academy or stay under local authority control.

He outlined the school’s achievements to date and the financial benefit of becoming an academy at a time of shrinking budgets. “Every extra penny in the school goes to the children,” he said. “To turn our back on that amount of money just for ideological reasons is a disservice for our kids.

“It is about the children ultimately, if it is right for them it is right for me.”

Governors will meet next week to discuss the issue.

The move would see the school step away from local authority control, providing it with the freedom to set its own pay and conditions for staff, deliver the curriculum and change the length of its terms and school days if it wanted to.

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The academy idea was previously focused on badly-performing secondary schools, but the coalition government announced legislation last year for outstanding schools and good schools with outstanding features to become academies.

This has led to a number of other schools to consider the option, with governors at Bungay High School due to meet yesterday to discuss the prospect.

But the increasing number of schools looking at academy status has worried teaching unions who are concerned about the speed of the moves and the impact on the rights of teachers.

If governors approve the idea, work will begin to agree a public funding arrangement with the target for the Sir John Leman High School to become an academy by August 1.

The news came as parents gathered for the first of two public meetings to listen to proposals to set up a new free school in Beccles.

The idea comes from a group of parents of youngsters at Beccles Middle School, which is set to close under Suffolk County Council’s reorganisation of schools.

Free schools are funded directly from central government and are subject to Ofsted inspections but have freedom from local authority control.

If given the green light, the new school would serve up to 600 pupils aged between 11 and 16 and would open in September next year.

The Beccles Free School Project Group has decided that the new school would be called Waveney High School. The group says the new facility would provide parents with a choice. They say it would also respond to concerns from parents and teachers in Beccles and south Lowestoft over the transitional arrangements under the school organisation review.

Speaking at the meeting on Wednesday evening, steering group member Mark Chapman stressed that the bid is not politically motivated in any way. “It is a process that is motivated purely by the performance of our children in school,” he said. “As parents we consider that we only have one shot at this – one shot of putting our children through education. Therefore we want it to be the best it can be.”

Another public meeting to discuss the planned new school will take place at Hungate Church Hall on Monday at 7pm.