Sir John Leman head brands free school plans a ‘disaster’

SIR John Leman High School’s headteacher has labelled plans for a free school in Beccles as a “disaster”, as the debate rages about the proposal.

Jeremy Rowe said that he saw no need for the proposed school and that students would ultimately be the losers.

However, Tony Callaghan, spokesman for Beccles Free School steering group, said that many parents in the region wanted another choice for their children.

The disagreement started earlier this year when public meetings were held in the town about the prospect of starting a free school.

A group of parents of youngsters at Beccles Middle School supported the idea and wanted to help create one at the site of the school that is set close next year under Suffolk County Council’s School Organisation Review.

In March, Mr Rowe and Sir John Leman’s chairman of governors David Castleton expressed their “profound reservations”, but now that the group has made their application to the Department for Education, Mr Rowe has expressed further concern.

He said: “My personal point of view is that two schools in Beccles would be a disaster. There is no need for this school, there is no money for this school; students will ultimately be the losers.”

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He said that he respected the group’s point of view and admitted everyone was working for the greater good of education in Beccles, however, he felt that the bid was “dangerous folly”.

“You can’t invent children, there is a given number who go to school in Beccles. We remain full and the new school is empty or both are half empty. Either one is a waste of public money,” he said.

Mr Rowe emphasised the successes of the Sir John Leman High School and said that it was an exciting time with the school currently applying for academy status.

But Tony Callaghan, from the Beccles Free School steering group, said that they were concerned about the size of Sir John Leman High School and the choices available for parents.

He said: “There are a large number of parents in Beccles and the surrounding area unhappy about their children going to this inner city type comprehensive at Sir John Leman.”

Mr Callaghan, a retired middle school headteacher from Bedfordshire, said that this all stemmed from the dissatisfaction with Suffolk county council’s decision to close middle schools. He also claimed Mr Rowe’s ambition was to create a new titan school and that parents in Beccles wanted more than one choice.

“One parent said to me did not want 11 year old child to the whirling rodeo of a huge comprehensive,” he said.

However, Mr Rowe said he felt the group were not taking into account the new 900-pupil Pakefield High School that is due to open in September

He said: “There are schools in Suffolk which are much bigger than we will be and they operate very successfully. That increase in number is only temporary, two years after SOR (the Schools Organisation Review) we will be same size as we are now.”

He also said he felt that ultimately the schools would have to merge as one, which would be a loss of public money and damaging to the children.

If the Beccles Free School is approved by the Department for Education, it hopes to be open by September 2012, although Suffolk County Council are yet to decide if the school will be able to use the site of Beccles Middle School.

The school would be called Waveney High School and would serve up to 600 pupils between the age of 11 and 16. The bid is being supported by educational charity The Seckford Foundation, which is also supporting a bid in Saxmundham. It will lend its expertise from its connections with Woodbridge School and other community projects, to assist the applications.

Both free and academy schools are funded directly by central government and are subject to Ofsted inspections, but are free from local authority control.