Following a freedom of information request to Suffolk County Council, this blog can reveal the official pupil counts as at 10 July 2012 for entry to new Suffolk free schools in September 2012. They paint a sad picture of free school unpopularity and failure.
|Name of School
|Beccles Free School||11||15||16||42|
|Saxmundham Free School||20||21||44||85|
|IES Breckland School||67||61||62||190|
It is hard to see how a school with cohorts of such small size will be able to deliver the kind of quality maths and triple science education needed to get the brightest pupils into our leading universities while providing a meaningful route into employment for those for whom such an academic curriculum is too challenging. Since Seckford have failed to convince me otherwise on either count, I firmly believe they will fail both ends of the ability spectrum.
Based on these year sizes, I don’t think it would be wise to send any child to do their GCSEs at any of these three schools in any of the three year groups. The tiny Y7 and Y8 groups are unlikely to grow significantly once school has started. The slightly less tiny Y9 group needs to start on GCSE courses almost straight away, so by the time they realise it’s not working, it will be too late for those pupils to fully recover, even if they switch schools. So, for different reasons, parents should conclude that the free school gamble isn’t worth it.
I would shut both of the Seckford free schools immediately. Even if the two Seckford free schools were to merge, as Peter Aldous and Mark Bee have urged them to do, the combined school is still unlikely to be viable as some parents may choose not to go to the new location.
These figures are in clear contrast to the 48% increase claimed by Seckford in a recent press article. Based on the Suffolk CC figures, the increase at Beccles is below 14%.
There are two possible interpretations of the numbers. If the Suffolk CC figures are accurate, then sensible parents are thinking twice about their choice and bailing out of the ill-advised and risky Seckford free schools as quickly as new parents are being recruited in response to Seckford’s advertising campaign.
If the Suffolk CC figures are not accurate, then there is really no reason to believe Seckford’s are any more accurate and nobody has a complete picture of the defections to and from the free schools. We won’t be sure until September which way parents who had considered both schools are going to jump. September may not be the end of the story either, as parents see the reality of a tiny free school, realise their mistake, and transfer to a full size school before the end of the first term.
In a situation where many neighbouring schools still have vacancies for September 2012, there are no effective deadlines to switching schools. Parents at Seckford free schools who are having doubts should not hesitate to have an exploratory chat with the head or a senior teacher at Sir John Lehman, Bungay, Pakefield, East Point, Stradbroke, Thomas Mills, Leiston, or Farlingaye to find out if there isn’t a better way to educate their child. Parents should not feel the least bit guilty about either making a late switch or having a conversation and then deciding not to, even after the start of next term. Search for the school on the Internet and call the number on their web site directly. You will find them very happy to talk.
Your children should come first. Choose wisely. The responsibility for dealing with this mess will end up with the DfE and the taxpayer.