A free school planning to open its gates in Suffolk this September has been accused of attempting to "bribe" parents to send their children to the school.
The Beccles Free School was given the go-ahead by the Department for Education in May, but so far just 37 pupils have signed up to the school, even though it has places for 162 children.
The school has been the subject of a bitter local dispute since it was proposed last year. The latest development has led to neighbouring Sir John Leman High School suggesting that the free school was "enticing" prospective parents with offers of free uniforms and free lunches.
The accusation stems from an email from the free school's principal, Robert Cawley, who wrote to every parent that had "signed up in the past to receive information about Beccles Free School". The correspondence states that the Seckford Foundation, the trust behind the school, will provide "free of charge, branded items of school uniform and school meals for the first half-term for every student".
Jeremy Rowe, headteacher of Sir John Leman High, said it was as if the new free school were being forced to "bribe" parents to enrol their children at Beccles due to the low take-up of places. "The Seckford Foundation has tried to say that these are not inducements, but they are," Mr Rowe said. "This is a new school that will cost about #163;2 million just because a group of parents wanted one. Well, I have decided I want a fire engine, just because it might be nice to have. It's ridiculous."
Beccles' principal dismissed the claims, stating that free schools were free to allocate their budgets as they saw fit. "In line with many other free schools and academies opened around the country in recent years, uniform, meals and assistance with technology are often supplied," Mr Cawley said. "We have explained this to anyone who showed an interest in the new school."