“A majority of people who responded to the public consultation did not support the proposal that The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust should govern Beccles Free School on behalf of the Department for Education.”
So said the Consultation Report sent to the DfE. Cambridge Education, who ran the Consultation, said it was “aware of a separate petition running in parallel with the public consultation but are unaware of the details as information has not formally been provided.” This “parallel” petition against the school received nearly 3,000 signatures and the free school’s own consultation found a majority were against it. The Consultation revealed that a majority of people who attended drop-in sessions were against the proposed school. Even “Any Questions” revealed widespread opposition to the scheme. Nevertheless, the school has been given the go-ahead.
Cambridge Education said the negative feedback was caused by “Anti-Free School campaigners [who] were active at each of the public consultations and approached members of the public. This may have impacted engagement and influenced opinion.” So it’s OK for the free school to canvass on behalf of the school but not democratic for other people, which included five local heads, the Tory head of Suffolk County Council and the local Tory MP, to campaign against it.
The Consultation report was dated 7 March 2012 but has only just been made public. James Hargrave describes on his blog how a Freedom of Information request asking for the report to be made public was ignored. The DfE has apologised, of course, but this does not dispel suspicions that the delay was deliberate.
The DfE has allowed Beccles Free School to open despite the results of a required consultation showing that the majority of respondents did not support the school. This raises three questions:
1 How many other free schools are given the go-ahead when the consultation was as negative as that of the Beccles Free School?
2 How many other consultation reports are unpublished or left unpublished until after free schools are approved?
3 What is the point of consultations if the DfE decides to ignore negative results?