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Free school disappoints with 28% GCSE rate

An education trust is launching an external review after less than a third of pupils at one of its free schools achieved five or more A* to C grades in its first set of GCSE results.

Just 28 per cent of the 47 pupils at Saxmundham Free School, in Suffolk, achieved five or more A* to C grades, including English and maths.

It was one of two schools run by The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust which posted its first GCSE results today.

The other – Beccles Free School, also in Suffolk – saw 39 per cent of its 49 pupils achieve the GCSE benchmark figure.

Both schools opened in September 2012 and were rated as good with outstanding features by Ofsted last year.

They have received a total of just over £2m in funding for pre and post-opening expenses.

The trust, in a statement on its website, said it had not done as well as it expected and called the results “disappointing”.

An external review will now be launched in September.

Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, tweeted today the trust is right to launch the investigation, but said the school knew the year group, which started at both schools in Year 9, was “challenging”.

David Lees, headteacher at Saxmundham Free School, said: “The group of Year 9 students who joined us when the school opened in September 2012 faced a lot of individual educational challenges with 45 per cent at the time being below the expected levels in literacy and 55 per cent below the expected levels in numeracy.

“Over the last three years we have been able to increase the expected attainment levels of these students, who should be congratulated for their hard work.”

Nigel Youngman, headteacher at Beccles Free School, added: “Whilst we are disappointed with the overall results, a number of students have received outstanding results and each individual should be congratulated for their hard work and achievement.”

Beccles Free School
Beccles Free School

The trust has a third school, Ixworth, which opened in September last year, amid concerns from the local community it would put other schools under threat.

Pupils will sit GCSEs for the first time in 2017.

Dr Robert Cawley, principal and CEO of The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, added: “Each of our schools has a shared sense of ambition and a broad and balanced traditional curriculum.

“They are underpinned by strong pastoral care and an exceptional breadth of enrichment activity which challenges each student to aspire to personal and academic goals.

“Our expectations are for each student to make above average progress and achieve to the very highest level in all that they do.”


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  1. Janet Downs

    ‘The curriculum of Saxmundham Free School unashamedly focuses on subjects that contribute to the EBacc. The whole school target will be that 50% of students taking the first GCSE’s (in 2015) will qualify for that award.’
    From the application form proposing Saxmundham Free School sent to the DfE. The proposal mentioned historic underachievement in the area which the free school said it would address in partnership with the independent Woodbridge School also run by the Seckford Foundation.
    ‘Beccles Free School will be one of the best schools in Suffolk with a reputation for high academic outcomes and pastoral care, with an ethos that inspires students to achieve, whatever their background. It will challenge a culture of low expectations and low achievement in the area.’
    From the proposal form for Beccles Free School.
    3,000 people signed a petition against the establishment of Beccles Free School. The opposition included the Tory MP and the Tory leader of the Council. But it was allowed to go ahead. The proposers claimed the free schools would be better than other local provision which, it was implied, were poor in comparison. The Foundation even described their free schools as ‘outstanding’ before Advertising Standards said it was misleading to do so before Ofsted had inspected the schools.
    Now it appears both free schools would fall into the new category of ‘coasting’. If the Education Bill becomes law, will Morgan intervene and change the schools’ sponsors?

    • Of course she won’t, she’ll just cough politely and say that the coasting grade was never meant for Free/Academy Schools, just those woeful LA schools that are doing so much harm to our children and young people…….***sigh***

    • Hazeljayne

      I attended Beccles Free School and can honestly say that it is an outstanding school. This will be shown when students that have gone to BFS for their entire high school career take their GCSE’s.

  2. When a local authority school has “poor” results, they blame the school, the teachers, the headteachers, the system, the local authority. They say that the school should be taken over by a trust.

    When a free school has “poor” results, they blame the students. They say that the school is outstanding.

  3. Jill Douglass

    Would Ms Coffey still be supporting the school if these results were from a local authority school? I think not. Double standards as always. Challenges are there to be met, not to be used as an excuse. And many of the most challenging students in this year were ‘palmed off’ elsewhere.
    It will be interesting to see Ofsted’s opinion. Surely they can’t ignore these abysmal results just because it is a free school. But then these results are also an indictment of their inspection rating. ‘Outstanding?’ I don’t think so.

    • The Inner London school I worked in certainly had a very challenging intake – high numbers of refugees, etc. We were not allowed to use that as an excuse. The Government used the exam results as an excuse to close the school in its drive to create academies. One rule for them, another rule for us.

  4. Even if those percentages of children joined the school below the expected levels in literacy and numeracy, then it would be expected that the ones who were at or above would get at least a C at GCSE level. According to the school’s own figures that would be 55% at or above in literacy and 45% at or above in maths. Clearly the schools are not even ensuring progress at an average level for those 3 years.

  5. My daughter has just spend her 1st year at Beccles Freeschool and she has florished into a more outgoing individual she has a quirky outlook and doesn’t run with the Norm ..which l love her for and l thing any other High school would have squashed these amazing qualities in her .Her confidence has grown hugely in every aspect and she’s a fabulous child and l feel Freeschool has brought the best of everything out in her ….her grades are fantastic from Freeschool lm extremely proud of her and in July she had the most amazing experience of going to China with Beccles freeschool to compete in a Robotics competition the 6 students spend 2 wonderful weeks in China and they came 2nd in the World ..This is something my 12 year old wouldn’t have done last year due to lack of confidence. ..I have every respect for Beccles Freeschool and Mr Youngman is an amazing Head along with my daughters Form teacher Mr Don Daniels and all the other amazing staff there .I am extremely thrilled with the choice l made of sending my daughter to Beccles freeschool just wish there had of been Freeschools when l was a child …my daughter can’t wait to go back to school never thought l would hear that from a nearly 13 year old teenager. Loving Beccles freeschool and all it stands for x

  6. student

    I go to Saxmundham free school and I am proud so say that I go there, yes our school might have gotten had grades the first year but that can and will change. I have just started my GCSE and is in year 10,I have great science results, my English teacher says I am one of the people at the top of the class, I join the higher group for maths, I am also doing great in French (since the new teacher started my French has really improved), our new art teacher is amazing and all the lessons I attend, I learn and develop my skills. since I am from a different country, I used to get extra English until the school realised I don’t need them. thanks to this school I have learned so much and when in school there was a student that bullied me for who I am the teachers reacted quickly and made the right choices, all my other school I have been to, this school has defiantly been the best so far and I hope it always stays like this because the teachers are perfect and entertaining, my geography lesions and always fun. apart from every teenage struggle to get out of bed in the morning i find this school to be kind-hearted and just the best.