ASA Censures Seckford Over Second Misleading Ad

After trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority last year over improper use of the phrase “outstanding school” despite not having been judged so by Ofsted, Suffolk’s troubled education provider, The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, has once again fallen foul of the ad regulator in a ruling published yesterday.

The controversial organisation runs two undersized secondary schools in Beccles and Saxmundham, failed to open a third in Stoke-by-Nayland and is currently battling to open one in Ixworth against a rival bid supported by local parents, primary schools and the Church of England.

Beccles Free School (BFS) in hot water for describing its headteacher, John Lucas, as “a former inspector and Director of Learning for Cambridgeshire”. A similarly misleading description appears in a profile attributed to Lucas on the professional networking site LinkedIn.

Unfortunately, Director of Learning for Cambridgeshire County Council is a real post that Lucas has never held.

Suffolk Coalition Opposing Free Schools (SCOFS) argued, and the ASA agreed, that this phrase significantly inflated the seniority of Lucas’s previous roles.

In an astonishing display of arrogance, BFS attempted to defend the description with reference to Lucas’s two previous roles.

Most recently, Lucas was Vice Principal and Director of Learning at Thomas Clarkson Community College, the worst performing secondary school in Cambridgeshire and 16th worst in the country at GCSE.

Prior to that, he was a General Inspector, Standards and Effectiveness, reporting to a Head of Standards and Effectiveness who, in turn, reported, ironically, to the actual Director of Learning for Cambridgeshire County Council.

In a feeble gesture, BFS offered to slightly change the offending phrase to the equally misleading “Director of Learning in Cambridgshire”, a solution the ASA rejected.

In the same ad, BFS also claimed to have passed an Ofsted pre-opening inspection “with flying colours”, despite the fact that this is a routine health, safety, welfare and suitability check with only a simple yes/no outcome. The ASA also found this claim misleading.


ASA ruling of 9 Jan 2013

LinkedIn profile attributed to John Lucas

Organisation structure for Cambridgeshire County Council, including Children and Young People’s Services and its Director of Learning

News story on Thomas Clarkson Community College’s GCSE league table position

6 thoughts on “ASA Censures Seckford Over Second Misleading Ad

  1. Pingback: Does DfE secrecy encourage extravagant Free School claims? | Educating Brentwood

  2. Mike West

    I note you haven’t complained regarding the St Mary’s presentation where they claimed their school would be ‘outstanding’. I would also like to correct you regarding ‘parent support’ for the St. Mary’s bid. As you well know, the original parent group and the vast majority of parents in the area are totally behind the Seckford bid and do not need to rely on selling the merits of a school based on ‘you can vote for both schools’ and vote for a church school as it helps the Thurston Partnership unravel the mess they have made. Do you honestly think local parents cannot see through your charade? It amuses me greatly that the local parents that are with Seckford saw the need for a Free School before any of the ‘educationalists’ and now they have the local support, the Thurston Partnership and Diocese are panicking that competition will mean they have to do better and are jumping on the bandwagon. You have said in the past that results are not good enough for this area (as well as other derogatory things about parents from Ixworth) so surely competition would drive up standards? We don’t want more of the same.

  3. martincampbell2 Post author

    The self-appointed ‘Ixworth parent group’ was founded in an atmosphere of visceral hatred towards the local authority and other local schools from middle school supporters over the change to 2-tier. In terms of a debate over the best solution to providing the right number of secondary school places in the area after transition, it wasn’t a good start.

    Many parents and teachers were driven away from engaging with this hostile group, including some in favour of a School at Ixworth. This created a second disparate set of parents who quietly lobbied their primary and middle schools for an alternative less hostile solution.

    The Thurston catchment area needs about 600 additional secondary places at Beyton, Thurston or Ixworth or split between these sites. Whether this should be delivered by means of a free school in Ixworth or a second campus at Beyton is a preference, not a need. I’m happy to debate the preference, but would rather do so on its substance.

    To suggest that the “vast majority of parents in the area are totally behind the Seckford bid” is probably inaccurate. I have spoken to parents in favour of each of the competing proposals and some who favour more than one of the options. Not everyone shares the fanatical tribal sentiment.

    Not all the parents who have responded to the extensive and apparently lavishly funded marketing campaign for the Seckford bid were either fully aware of the other options or fully supportive of Seckford or continued to support it after responding.

    My experience is that schools motivation to improve comes from within, not from external competition, and where there is competition, friendly competition with some collaboration is much more effective than outright hostile competition.

  4. Mike West

    I think you will find the extensive marketing campaign consisted, in the main, of parents in support of the Seckford bid going into the villages and talking to other parents in all weathers, over many weeks and not relying on a last minute spoiling proposal with exclusive access to the primary school playground and book bags. The parent group and Seckford also answered questions both from individuals and in a group setting. I do wonder why the St Mary’s team would not answer questions in an open forum? You see, believe it or not, if the St Mary’s bid is successful I have to consider sending my children there as I want what is best for my and other children. Ultimately I feel it has all been worth it as a free school looks likely in Ixworth, whether St Marys or Seckford; the level of support has shown that the original Thurston proposals were not favoured by parents and the process, shambolic.

    Could you also please qualify what you mean by a ‘hostile’ group and I cannot believe you will say a closed facebook group? Some of these people were victims of FOI’s at their place of work; a truly underhand tactic. Do you honestly believe that parents with the best intentions for their children knew they would expect the nastiness they received, only to have the anti free school brigade do exactly the same and propose a free school. Incidentally SCOsFS has been shown to be a joke and you must feel rather embarrassed and hypocritical.

    Why not ask to meet with the original parent group, you may be surprised. Incidentally, I would call being hostile referring to all people in the village as ‘telegraph reading tw*ts’ and see you next Tuesdays…. don’t you agree?


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