Parents of children at a ‘very special’ Worthing school have said it would ‘break their hearts’ if it were to close.
Closure is one of several potential options being explored in a consultation on the future of Clapham and Patching primary school, which was launched by West Sussex County Council last week.
Among the other options being considered are federation, merger, relocation, amalgamation and academisation.
At a public meeting last week, Paul Wagstaff, director of education and schools, reassured parents that no conclusions had yet been reached on how to address the challenges facing the school.
Before the meeting, parents shared their stories in support of the school.
Jane Foster from Durrington said Clapham and Patching was ‘very special’ as, while not specifically catering for children with additional needs, it was more willing than other schools were to support those with extra needs.
It had gone ‘above and beyond’ for her five-year-old son, Christopher, who has a severe speech delay, she said, by offering him speech therapy everyday and helping him develop his strengths in writing and art.
She said: “We feel like he wouldn’t have fit in anywhere else, but he’s been made to feel so welcome here.
“We’ve seen an incredible amount of encouragement from other children, they really look out for him.”
The school was told to improve during its most recent Oftsed inspection – but Jane pointed out that inspectors praised its ‘caring and nurturing environment’ and said: “Most parents want that for their kids, to be more nurturing than to focus on grades.”
She feared that, if in the worst case scenario the school were to close, many families would be forced into home educating their children.
“A lot of the kids that go there they wouldn’t fit into a special needs school, but yet they would struggle in a normal run-of-the-mill school,” she said.
A petition to save the school from closure, which Jane launched earlier this month, has amassed more than a thousand signatures – click here to view the petition on change.org
Joanne Jones, who lives in Goring, said she moved her three children aged 10, seven and six to the primary school last year.
She described it as ‘unique’ and said she was ‘absolutely elated’ with how her children, two of whom have cystic fibrosis, had settled in.
“The difference is unbelievable,” she said. “One of my children used to cry everyday going to school – that hasn’t happened once here.
“I don’t have daily meltdowns, they don’t come out grumpy – they just bounce, they are just so happy.
“They really know how to work with children and get the best out of them.
“They’ve all been able to grow individually, they’ve all made progress and absolutely flourished at this school.”
She said she was ‘very upset’ that the option of closure was included in the consultation.
“To lose it would just break our hearts,” she said. “I just want the school to stay as it is.
“We will do whatever we have to do to keep it. We will fight it every step of the way.”
Nikki Jackson said her son had been at Clapham and Patching for two years, having previously been at a mainstream school that was not able to meet his needs.
She said of the school: “It’s a lovely small environment, and from that point he has completely blossomed. He has absolutely had a wonderful couple of years.”
Her husband Ross said he feared that there would be nowhere for children at the school to go if it were to close.
He said: “There aren’t many spaces in Worthing. There’s only a few schools that have spaces and they’re not necessarily the schools that could meet these quite vulnerable kids’ needs.”
Niki Cumber said her daughter, now aged seven, had had a ‘complete break down’ at a previous school, but was now ‘absolutely thriving’ at Clapham and Patching.
“Academically she’s doing amazing, she loves coming to school,” she said. “If you saw her then and saw her now, she’s doing absolutely amazing.
“My fear is that if this school shuts, we will be back to square one.”
Rosemary Hudson said she moved her daughter, who has autism and severe anxiety, to the school just over a year ago.
She said: “She’s settled down and she’s really happy.
“They’re amazing at the school, they meet every child’s needs and treat them all individually. It’s so nurturing.”
She said she feared her daughter ‘wouldn’t cope in a bigger school’ if she had to move.
Clapham and Patching is one of five small schools in the county whose future is being consulted on.
In a statement released last week when the consultation was launched, Richard Burrett, the county council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “As the local education authority, we are responsible for ensuring that all of our children and young people can access high quality education, that schools attract pupils from their local community and that they are financially stable and sustainable into the future.
“This is in line with our School Effectiveness Strategy.
“It is therefore important we explore options for the five schools which have been identified as potentially vulnerable.
“It is important to stress that no decisions have been made and I would encourage all members of the schools’ communities to take part in the consultation.”
People can give their views online at www.westsussex.gov.uk/smallschools or by filling in a paper consultation form, which will soon be available in West Sussex libraries.
The consultation runs until November 25, 2019.
MORE ON THIS STORY: Consultation on future of school near Worthing opens