Suffolk County Council has forced a blogger, who has campaigned against a Free School which has been approved to open with only 37 application for places, to remove a video from the internet.
Just weeks after Argyll and Bute council, recognised the error of its ways in trying to stop a primary school girl photographing school meals for her blog, the Suffolk council told the chairman of a primary school’s governors what he could post.
James Hargrave, an IT specialist who blogs as Onlygeek (in the village), of Stradbroke, agreed to remove the video after an a call from the county council. He tweeted: “Trying to drag my children’s primary school into this is beyond the pale.”
It seems that an unnamed county councillor complained to Tim Ryder, the council’s monitoring officer. Hargrave received a call from a council official who made it clear he was speaking on behalf of Mr Ryder, but would not say who had made the complaint.
In another tweet Hargrave said: “According to an anonymous letter I am not fit to be a Governor and a bad example to children.”
Hargrave has been a robust campaigner against plans by the Seckford Foundation for a free school at Beccles. He is not alone and only 37 pupils have been enrolled for the school due to open this year (Guardian) funded by Michael Gove’s Education Department.
The video which has sparked this was a satire of the “Downfall” genre. They use a clip from a 2004 German film about Hitler’s demise with subtitles in the chosen language of the satirist. The New York Times wrote about them under the heading “The Hitler Meme” in 2008.
Last Thursday (July 5) Hargrave received a letter, in the language of a solicitor, from Roger Finbow, chairman of the Seckford Foundation calling on him to remove the video and another post. It demanded that he reply by 4pm the following day confirming that he had complied.
Hargrave’s immediate response was to publish the letter and make a comment including this:
The Seckford Foundation really do take themselves a bit too seriously. They run a minor public school few people have heard of out of Suffolk and have been quite content to make derogatory comments about other schools and those who do not agree with them. Seems it is OK for Watson to go on the Radio and suggest that campaigners are a “bad example to children” or to run down the reputation of Sir John Leman High School and its Headteacher Jeremy Rowe.
It seems to be this parody video that really has annoyed them. There are literally scores of these “Downfall” videos on YouTube for almost any subject you can think of. Here it is again in case you missed it.
The following day, Hargrave wrote to Finbow, including this paragraph:
I quite understand that you do not like what I have written and would rather I had not written it but that does not mean that my behaviour is harassment or that what I have written is defamatory. Indeed it is interesting that you do not give a single concrete example of any words used and why you allege they are defamatory just vague statements that whole Blog posts are “defamatory”.
He also wrote:
Your recent foray into free schools has placed you in public life spending public money. As such others and myself have a democratic and legal right to robustly criticise and this includes as the judge said a degree of “lampooning”.
It is impossible not to be suspicious that the complaint to the county council’s monitoring officer from the unnamed councillor is connected to the exchange of letters.
There is a very nasty smell of bullying about all this. It is surprising that the county council’s senior legal officer should have involved himself in this way.
Yesterday (July 9) the Guardian ran another story asking: “Has the government underestimated the power of community opposition to its free schools policy?” It starts”
There are around 10,600 empty school places in Suffolk. Or, to put it another way, if 10 average-sized secondary schools were closed down, there would still be a place for every child living in the county who needs one. Which made it somewhat surprising, therefore, when the Department for Education approved four free schools in the county, with a further two in the offing.
“The Suffolk free school scandal”, as local campaigners are calling it, has turned this rural county into an ideological battleground for the education secretary Michael Gove’s flagship policy. Millions of pounds are to be spent on setting up and kitting out new schools that are simply not needed, and in most cases not wanted, by local communities.
It looks as if as if the Free School protagonists are rattled and the battle is getting dirtier.