What do they know that we don't?

Emma Bishton's picture
Here in Suffolk we have been anxiously awaiting news on three free school proposals by The Seckford Foundation. Beccles and Saxmundham are in pre-opening, scheduled to open this September if approved, but still waiting funding agreements. For Stoke by Nayland we are waiting to hear if they are to be interviewed following submission of their business case.

There are no recent updates on any of the websites dedicated to these three proposals, and nothing new on the Seckford Foundation's website or that I can find on the DfE.

However the Seckford Foundation, despite the significant opposition demonstrated locally and nationally to the Beccles proposal in particular, have clearly felt for a while that they have grounds for optimism. They have already appointed a free schools principal-designate (a subject of controversy in itself), are currently appointing heads, and have advertised for teaching staff. But today they have produced a letter for parents in Ixworth regarding their fourth free school proposal, in which they state that Beccles and Saxmundham are to open in September and that their interview for Stoke by Nayland will be in May. The expression they use: "successfully applied to run two free schools", is the same phrase they have used since the bids for Beccles and Saxmundham got through to pre-opening, and we do of course hope that this means they still have no actual funding agreement to announce, but here in Suffolk we have already grown cynical because of the DfE's apparent willingness to spend millions replicating school places in an area with an ageing population.

The Seckford Foundation have already consistently demonstrated their inability to engage in open debate about the merits or otherwise of their proposed schools, and have run shy of any real debate. But they appear to be more keen to elicit parents' support for their fourth free school venture than to communicate any news about their existing proposals to those of us who live here!
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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 01/05/2012 - 11:37

What do they know that we don’t?

It sounds like they know that a funding agreement is at least in draft and is in the offing. Nothing unusual or sinister about that, is there?

..they appear to be more keen to elicit parents’ support for their fourth free school venture than to communicate any news about their existing proposals ..

Good to hear they're keeping the focus on the important things.

There is a heck of a lot of etiquette and protocol surrounding announcements. DfE will vouchsafe what it has to vouchsafe when it is good and ready........... meanwhile we should cut the Seckford Foundation some slack.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 01/05/2012 - 14:57

Ricky - the situation in Beccles has been controversial since the free school was first proposed (see link below). It discussed on "Any Questions" in March and can still be heard by following the BBC link below. Since then the Seckford Foundation has appointed an executive principal designate for the Beccles Free School and the Saxmundham Free School - the successful candidate was the adjudicator of the disagreement between the Seckford Foundation and locals opposed to the free school (which include the local Tory MP). This surely raises questions about his independence and throws the whole process into disrepute.

You used the word "vouchsafe" twice. An apt choice as it means to give or grant (something) to (someone) in a gracious or condescending manner. This sums up the situation succinctly - it is the act of bestowing something to a favoured group while simultaneously forcing the same something on to another group that doesn't desire it.

The locals don't want the school - why should they "cut the Seckford Foundation some slack"?




Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 09:40


why should they “cut the Seckford Foundation some slack”?

My point was that it is wrong to blame them for not announcing news that is most probably subject to a DfE embargo. It just seems petty and spiteful.

The locals don’t want the school..

Clearly some locals do. Those who have signed-up to sending their children to it.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 11:39

This thread is relevant. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/03/question-in-lords-about-st...
I think the government we extremely unwise to ignore the Lib Dems' request. Clearly some people do not want the school. Clearly some do. There is no process by which the overall situation is being objectively assessed so we have an absolute mess.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 11:51

Ricky - listen to Any Questions. It demonstrates the local feeling against the school. Even the Tory MP doesn't want it. Your logic seems to be that if some locals want it (number not known) then these trump the wishes of the rest (with the blessing of the DfE, of course).

The whole free schools farce is surrounded in secrecy - whether it's so-called "evidence of demand", consultations which satisfy the letter of the law but not it's spirit, dubious enticements to complete forms, changing admission criteria and so on.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 14:19

Your logic seems to be that if some locals want it (number not known) then these trump the wishes of the rest

I think the wishes of parents with school age children should, in these circumstances, trump the views of childless couples; gay people; people with kids already at school somewhere else; NUT activists... and others who may not see the need for a particular school.

Tim Bidie's picture
Tue, 01/05/2012 - 16:12

In a spirit of helpfulness.....

'How to make the perfect cup of tea:

The water is best freshly filtered and should not be re-boiled because this diminishes the oxygen content.

For good leaf tea the water should be below boiling. This is because the amino acids (which produce the tea's flavour) dissolve at lower temperatures than tannin. Tea made with water at 100°c will be more astringent and less sweet.

Ideally stop the kettle just before it reaches the rolling boil- when small bubbles form along the sides of the kettle. Alternatively the warm cup brewing method is an excellent way to cool the water (see below).

If you are a real stickler and want to get it exactly right white teas are best at about 70°c.
For green and black teas use water around 85°c.

In the 8th Century the celebrated poet Lu Yu wrote that in order to enjoy a really delicious cup of tea a porcelain cup should be used, preferably beside a lily pond in the company of desirable women.

Tastes may differ but Lu Yu's suggestion that tea is drunk from a porcelain cup is highly recommended.

Just as a fine wine may not live up to its full potential when drunk from a mug, the same can be said of fine teas.'


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 01/05/2012 - 23:16

Are you trying to describe the precision with which processes of school planning take place outside of England Tim?

For example how in Scotland the process takes 10 years, starting with a full evaluation of existing schools, associated provisions and possible sites for new build and works slowly and steadily through the development and evaluation of alternative proposals for the future with the help of a national team with central expertise developed over time as the process rolls from area to area?

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 06:25

Just promoting a decent cup of tea as an aid to easing anxiety in Beccles and Saxmundham, but also much needed by Scottish parents at present:

'Scottish education is being overtaken by systems in other countries around the world, it has been claimed.

The warning comes from Keir Bloomer, a former leader of council education directors and one of the architects of the Curriculum for Excellence.

Mr Keir is heading the Commission on School Reform which will carry out an inquiry into scope for improvement.'


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 06:49

"The commission, established by independent think tanks Reform Scotland and the Centre for Scottish Public Policy"
Fortunately Scottish people in education know how to keep those twits in check.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 06:58

This thread refers to the situation in Suffolk. Suffolk is not in Scotland. Serious posters could be deterred by comments which are wildly off topic. On another thread Fiona Millar reminded posters that comments are unmoderated. Please could posters respect this policy.

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 08:21

If you actually want serious comment and discussion, a little bit of levity, diversity and frankness should be encouraged.

A sterile debate by the likeminded all having a discussion with themselves, a self licking lollipop, contributes little to the national debate on education.

I see nothing wrong with the use of the word 'twit'.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 08:30

Janet I was trying to work out how Tim's post was relevant by suggesting he might be expressing the need for there to be coherent planning for the provision of education services for the the quality and efficiency of what is done to be optimised.

Having done my best to make his comments seem in any way relevant and failed I will now stop trying.

Tim - allegorical stuff does not work well in forums unless you explain precisely what you intend by it.

Paul Reeve's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 09:02

Meanwhile, back in Suffolk.....

Emma Bishton's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 15:04

Update: apparently the Seckford Foundation have not yet had final approval from the DfE. Whilst I sincerely hope this means the schools will not be opening, I do find it extraordinary that there is this much delay. Pupils and their parents in Beccles and Saxmundham do not yet know which school they will be going to next term!

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 16:23

I do find it extraordinary that there is this much delay.

I believe the first tranche of 2012 FAs (e.g. Greenwich) were signed on 13th April....... so the delay isn't that great.

Sarah's picture
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 19:19

It is now 2 May, some two months after national offer day for school places in September. Surely if parents whose children are attending maintained schools need to be given 6 months notice of their child's school place the same should apply to parents who want a free school place. Like so many things about the free school and academy policy it's one rule for the free schools and a different one for maintained schools - for no good reason whatsoever. If free schools can't be approved in time for the normal round of admissions their opening should be delayed until the next admission round to ensure that they don't create local chaos for other schools and uncertainty for parents. There will be adjacent schools who won't have a clue whether or not they will lose half of their cohort (and therefore a significant element of their budget). How on earth are they expected to staff themselves appropriately with this little notice? If the DfE weren't in such an unholy rush to get these free school opened they would be taking this into consideration and allowing these new schools the appropriate lead time to become part of the local admissions landscape - instead of dropping them into the picture like a hand grenade, blasting apart all the months of planning.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 03/05/2012 - 13:30

Well, perhaps when councils become a bit more cooperative with free schools, helping sites to be obtained/confirmed and so on, then others will reciprocate.

Sarah's picture
Thu, 03/05/2012 - 17:21

I don't understand your comment - you think that allowing the bodies that have the statutory duty for the commissioning of school places to do its job properly is something that local authorities should negotiate on?

Local authorities have no role in the provision of sites for free schools. In case you hadn't noticed they are schools being proposed by the community and they have the New Schools Network, the DfE and EFA to help with the identification of sites. Local authorities get no say in where they go or whether they open. It's entirely reasonable for the commissioning body for school places to decide that it does not support the opening of a school in a place or of a type that it has ascertained through robust planning is not required - or to expect to be allowed to fulfill its requirement to local taxpayers that where it has surplus sites it will seek a market value for them. If they did otherwise they would be rightly accused of not achieving best value.

Now answer the points I've made please about the logic of allowing free schools to open outside the normal round of admissions which applies to all other schools.

Emma Bishton's picture
Sat, 05/05/2012 - 09:13

Latest update from the Seckford Foundation itself is that they do not anticipate receiving sign-off until the end of the month. So existing schools, new schools (if they are in fact approved), parents and pupils will have just one half term to prepare.

I believe that insufficient time to prepare and 'gel' the staff team is one of the reasons cited for failure in Laura McInerney's useful booklet 'Six Predictable Failures of Free Schools'. Doesn't sound as if the DfE has taken much notice.

Sarah's picture
Sat, 05/05/2012 - 09:25

There are excellent reasons why school reorganisation takes time to implement properly. A half term is a ridiculously short period to undertake all the careful preparation that is needed to properly establish a new school. Most school reorganisation assumes a lead-in period of at least a year, sometimes 18 months from a decision being taken to implementation. This allows for a smooth transition particularly for children in the school system at the time but also to ensure that recruitment activity can take place, training of staff can be undertaken, premises can be secured and that all the contracts and services which a new institution needs to operate effectively are in place. There are STILL plenty of free schools approved to open in September that don't have premises identified. This is insanity.

Paul Reeve's picture
Fri, 11/05/2012 - 09:06

Meanwhile in Sudbury..
Sudbury Upper School is set to become an academy sponsored by the Ormiston Trust from September but parents were officially told of the plans in an e-mail just three weeks ago.

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