The Free School Scandal In Suffolk -- a local parent speaks out!

Francis Gilbert's picture
This is a short video in which Emma Bishton speaks out against the free school proposals in her area in Suffolk. The photographs are all of the beautiful Suffolk countryside.
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Ben Taylor's picture
Mon, 13/06/2011 - 17:58


Some local people want to retain a local school that would dissapear as a site under a 3 tier structure as a 2 tier structure is introduced in that particular county.

They also claim that the council cabinet are willing as recently as May 2011 to support their efforts and have told the council officers to support them.

All of this is at:

A local school with support from the local community and local government - this is an LSN dream come true!

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 07:51

Ben, you offer as your evidence the website of the proposed school. This is hardly unbiased. However, the county council seems to be supporting their efforts to open the school which then begs the question: why is the council closing it in the first place if it's now supporting efforts to keep it open?

As far as local government backing for new schools is concerned, councils have no choice but to back free schools if there is a shortage of school places. Mr Gove has directed that all new schools must be free schools or academies. And local authorities are likely to support this - why go through all the bother of planning and building a new school if someone else will take on the burden? Never mind that the new schools will not be accountable to the local authority.

There was a meeting about the proposals for Stoke By Nayland school on 9 June 2011. It would be interesting to hear from people who were present.

Emma Bishton's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 16:37

Yes it is true that SCC have said they will work with the school if it opens. As a parent I would expect them to. However they have also been very clear for some considerable time that existing schools – including in this case Great Cornard Upper School – can accommodate the increase in pupils from the closure of the middle schools, and that in the case of Cornard this would bring the school to the desired size of 1,200 pupils. This would enable the school to offer a broad and balanced curriculum.

As an aside, the Stoke by Nayland group asserts that GCUS would have the same number of pupils after the opening of SbNHS, and implies that it would not therefore be adversely affected. But GCUS would only retain its current size by losing students in each year group to the new school and adding years 7 and 8: it is the size of the year group, not the overall size of the school, which enables the school to offer a wide range of subjects and to offer streaming in core subjects.

SCC have also stated that there is already spare capacity in the current schools (9% currently), and that should the Stoke free school open this spare capacity would increase significantly. Our children would then be caught up in a fragmented system in which a number of small schools, unnecessarily duplicating core costs, would be unable to offer a broad and balanced curriculum.

It is also really important to note that, even though there are considerable challenges to overcome in the schools review, including premises issues, the current school at Stoke is not fit for high school provision. It would likely cost around £5 million (based on what has happened at Clare) to convert the existing school buildings to be fit for purpose (to include science labs, for example). In my view it is better to spend any capital funding that is available on benefitting a large number of pupils not a few.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 21:33

Sounds like something to tgrash out locally - but I welcome the intervention of free schools to the debate since it is a counterweight to LA.

I would put free school process on a local ballot. I am sure that would be better in long run, policy needs to get off the ground 1st though.

Steve Maguire's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 21:36

I was at the Stoke By Nayland Meeting on the 9th June (chaired by the ever bias Tim Yeo). In a nutshell, Ronan Connolly the lead parent on the school association decided that he would avoid all questions that scrutinised the merits of the Free School he and his group wish to set up. But do they need to answer any questions? Seems not - all they need to do is submit a business case highlighting areas such as public demand for the school.
Michael Gove runs the risk of turning this concept into a farcical scenario where the public view counts for nothing compared to the intentions of a few parents who will steamroll to their goal of opening a free school devoid of any public debate.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 08:02

In Parliament on 11 May a Tory MP suggested that if public meetings voted down free school proposals it was because the meeting had been infiltrated by agitators including (apparently) the Local Schools Network. This implies that members of the public only know their own minds when they vote the way the government wants. If they don't, then they have been manipulated by dark forces.

The full story is here:

Emma Bishton's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 20:26

Ah Janet is fear of dark forces why the proposers of the school in Stoke by Nayland didn't hold a single public meeting until a week before they were due to submit their business case?! And more seriously for a moment the refusal to contemplate any view which isn't their own is presumably also why they refused our request (Compass-Suffolk) for a joint public debate. I've posted on this previously on LSN so won't repeat here, but suffice to say it is not only frustrating that they refuse to answer questions by both Compass members and other local parents, but extremely depressing that they appear confident of success despite failure to engage and consult in the area.

Lindsay Dyble's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 13:02

I was at the meeting on June 9th. I am a former pupil of both Stoke Middle and Gt.Cornard Upper, with 2 children needing a senior school soon.
Frankly I was really disappointed at the lack of debate on both sides. This is a serious issue for my family and I came along with high hopes.
The ranting style of questioning from the 'antis' completely stymied any possibility for reasoned debate. The only speaker who they seemed prepared to respect was the Headmaster of Boxford School, who spoke simply and eloquently in favour of choice.
I had hoped to hear from Mike Foley (even if only during the Q&A) but he was sadly silent.
Are there plans for any more meetings at this stage? I would like to see some proper debate on this serious issue. Reference to 'dark forces' has no place in a grown-up discussion, and probably explains the lack of public debate thus far. Perhaps if the relentlessly accusatory tone of the 'antis' was modified, proper debate could then follow.

Steve Maguire's picture
Sun, 26/06/2011 - 09:17

In response to Lindsay's comments- Firstly I must have been at a different meeting - as I remember it there was no debate, there was a question and answer session chaired by Tim Yeo whom allowed the Stoke by Nayland Free school group to make some comments that were untrue and mis-leading and when the veracity of their response was further questioned in a respectful manner - Mr Yeo stepped in (presumably to prevent a response that would damage the proposal for the High school).

You describe the 'antis' as a group of parents who on the night of the meeting were trying to get answers to questions that they have asked continuously during these proposals (which haven't been answered). These are not members of opposition groups these are parents who want the best for their children and other children that will be affected by the building of this school. There was no undercurrent of disruption or intimidation as you imply. Maybe you are mixing up the 'antis' with people that disagree that a Free school is needed in our community?

In terms of a 'public debate' - well the 'horse has bolted' I'm afraid. The debate should have took place prior to the submission of the business case. It has always been the strategy of the free school proposers to gain approval first and hope that the community will get used to it. Whilst this practice might be accepted in an autrocracy such as North Korea - I am of the opinion that this is not accepted in a country who's progress is determined by it's democracy.

Finally if we were to analyse the evidence of SBNHC proposers response to questions that test the need for a free school - sadly there is nothing to analyse has there has been no response. I have posed a number of questions that remain unanswered. If a public body wanting to open a school acted in this manner - there would be public outcry leading on to legal action. In truth the SBNHC proposers have been selective in who they respond to - will they adopt the same selection policy when it comes to admissions or recruitment of teachers?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 26/06/2011 - 09:55

I agree that referring to "dark forces" is not appropriate in a society which upholds free speech. But this was what the MP was suggesting. If local opinion was in favour of free schools, then the MP accepted the decision as a valid one, but if local opinion was not in favour of free schools, then the MP implied that the locals had been manipulated by agitators including contributors to this site. In other words, for a decision made by locals to be accepted as valid, then it has to chime with what the Government wants.

An example of this, not connected with schools, is the decision by Mr Pickles to overturn the results of a referendum by villagers in King's Cliffe, Northamptonshire, and their near neighbours. The referendum overwhelmingly rejected the siting of a dump for low-level nuclear waste near the village. Mr Pickles, champion of localism, has rejected the result and the dump will go ahead.

Emma Bishton's picture
Sun, 26/06/2011 - 20:36

Janet I quite agree. I have often wondered whether Michael Gove consulted with Eric Pickles on consultation for free schools. Central decisions made to suit a few locals at the expense of many locals doesn't sound much like localism working to me. I think a good test of this, certainly in a semi-rural area like this, will be how the locals who haven't been consulted on the significant increase in traffic through villages not suited to it respond if and when the schools open!

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