The Ipswich Star is reporting a Suffolk headteacher’s warning that pupils will suffer as reports show that all three free schools founded in the county last year were in areas of surplus places…
Government impact assessments compiled about the schools show that the Department for Education was aware of the surplus of places in the schools’ areas, and that opening them might exacerbate the problem for neighbouring schools.
One of the schools was located in an area predicted to have a 45% surplus in secondary school places by 2015/16. Saxmundham Free School, Beccles Free School, and IES Breckland were all founded in 2012.
Ian Flintoff, headteacher at Alde Valley School, which is just five miles from Saxmundham Free School, said the opening of the new school has “exacerbated existing demographic decline in numbers of pupils entering the secondary phase and leaves an unsatisfactory situation in which every secondary school has surplus capacity in a time of economic cutbacks”.
He added: “The losers in our school will be the pupils because we will have less money to spend on providing an improved learning environment and reduced curriculum choice without significant external investment.”
The Department for Education’s impact assessment into Saxmundham Free School said: “The Suffolk coastal district, in which the free school will be located, has 28.5% surplus places and this is set to rise to 31.5% without the establishment of the free school.”
The school’s impact on Alde Valley School, then known as Leiston Community High School, was assessed as high. It notes of Leiston High: “As the school is on the Suffolk coast and attracts pupils from further inland to the west, were these pupils to attend another school Leiston High School has no catchment area to the east on which to draw.”
A similar report into Beccles Free School said: “The Waveney District, in which the free school will be located, currently has a 38% surplus of secondary school places and this is predicted to rise to 45% by 2015/16 academic year without the establishment of the free school.”
The report added that nearby Sir John Leman High School could be adversely affected by the opening of the free school.
“The opening of the free school would likely further exacerbate the existing surplus places issue and potentially have a negative impact on the long-term financial viability of the school,” it said.
It reached the same conclusion about East Point Academy in Lowestoft, adding: “Additionally the secondary population in the area is predicted to decline over the next few years so the loss of pupils to the new Free School is not expected to be mitigated by increased demand in the area.”
An impact assessment carried out into IES Breckland in Brandon said: “There are already surplus places in the district and the secondary population in the neighbouring Breckland district (Norfolk) is predicted to shrink by 4% over (the next five years).”
However it added that the district’s secondary school population is projected to grow by 8.6% in the same period.
The reports also noted that parental demand existed in Beccles and Saxmundham for small, local schools focused on high academic achievement.
Graham Watson, director of the Seckford Foundation, which runs Beccles and Saxmundham Free Schools, said it was this which had motivated the establishment of the schools…
Is the presence of parental demand along with rising pupil numbers a good enough justification for going ahead with these schools or would it have been more sensible not to have them locating in areas with existing surplus capacity? Please share in the comments or on twitter…