No free school for 3,500-home Ipswich development because there is ‘not enough evidence’ for need

The Ipswich Northern Fringe development will feature 3,500 homes, but no free school Picture: SARAH

The Ipswich Northern Fringe development will feature 3,500 homes, but no free school Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A bid for a new free school on Ipswich’s 3,500-home Northern Fringe development has been turned down by Westminster education chiefs, claiming there was not enough evidence a school was needed there.

Dr Dan Poulter, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, said the decision was "nonsense" Picture: PAUL

Dr Dan Poulter, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, said the decision was "nonsense" Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

The Department for Education last week published its list of successful applicants for free schools across the country in its latest wave of proposals, with the bid for one in Ipswich’s Garden Suburb not having been successful.

The Department for Education said it did not comment on individual cases where bids were unsuccessful, but Suffolk County Council said evaluations were based on the evidence for need, engagement with parents, capacity and capability.

But despite 3,500 homes set to be built for the Garden Suburb development – and no homes or families there to currently engage with, the plans were still rejected.

Dr Dan Poulter, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, branded the decision “nonsense” and said it was common sense that schools would be needed.

Map of the Northern Fringe Development

Map of the Northern Fringe Development - Credit: Archant

“There is definitely going to be a need for additional school capacity there as part of the new build,” he said.

“Any idea that 3,500 new homes is not going to bring with it a considerable number of new children without new schooling is nonsense.”

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So far, two of the three developers building the scheme have been given planning permission, with Crest Nicholson’s portion of 1,100 homes expected to begin by the end of the year or early in 2019.

The masterplan for the area includes three primary schools and a new secondary school.

As it stands, Crest Nicholson’s contribution includes £5.8million for a primary school and £3.1m towards the high school, while Mersea Homes’ 815 homes area features contributions of £4m and £2.7m for primary and secondary provision respectively.

Planning permission for the third portion has not yet been submitted.

A county council education spokesman said: “Suffolk County Council intends to establish schools in the Ipswich Garden Suburb area when housing development comes forward in the area.

“We anticipate that we will need a new primary school in 2023 but will be reviewing the timescale against the pace of housing completions.”

Seven applications for free schools in wave 12 were submitted from Suffolk, with all seven being unsuccessful.

Opinion: Where is the common sense?

With 3,500 homes on the horizon for Ipswich’s Garden Suburb, it doesn’t take an expert to know that there might be several thousand children there who will need schooling that comes with it.

But that seems to be a fact lost on the Department for Education – it’s not hard to see why the area’s MP has called it “nonsense”.

Yes, the DfE has dozens of applications for a limited pot of cash, and undoubtedly there is need nationwide, but when 3,500 new homes cannot be considered as needing a school it does beg the question as to what level is acceptable in the DfE’s eyes?

Despite the fact that the DfE publishes both a list of applicants in each wave, and the letters sent to the successful bids, a request to see the reasons for refusal have been flatly turned down.

Indeed, the only reason given was that the department did not reveal that information, without any clear explanation as to why.

Given the public interest in schooling for the area, coupled with the fact that all seven of Suffolk’s free school applications in wave 12 were turned down, the level of accountability is nothing short of astonishing. Shouldn’t the public be made aware of why the bids for their local area were not successful?

Sadly, the decision is symptomatic of the state of education as a whole, and the many problems across the board. With such a skewed and baffling assessment of one application, is it any wonder there are problems in other areas too? Teacher workload, recruitment, special needs provision and chronic funding problems are already well versed – perhaps now we are seeing with this one local example just how deep the rot runs.