Parents desperately fighting to save a small Worthing school want closure to be taken ‘off the table’ as the option of becoming an academy is explored.
West Sussex County Council launched a consultation on closing Clapham and Patching Primary School by September 2020 at the beginning of February.
It said it would also support the school as it continues to discuss proposals for becoming an academy.
But parent Rosemary Hudson said the school should have had a chance to explore the academy option before the consultation was launched.
She said the Regional Schools Commissioner would not issue an academy order for the school, which gives it legal permission to become an academy, before the consultation was complete.
But, if the council decided to close the school at the end of the consultation, it would be unlikely to issue an academy order at all.
Jane Foster, whose five-year-old son attends the primary school, said: “All we want them to do is to keep closure off the table.
“If they shut the school down, we can’t become an academy.”
She said the school was working ‘extremely hard’ in discussions about joining the South Downs Education Trust and said parents remained hopeful the school would stay open.
“We have to keep optimistic,” she said. “We are fighting so hard. What’s all this stress for if we don’t have any optimism?”
If the school were to shut, she said her son might have to attend school in Steyning or Chichester, where she feared he would not make the same ‘strong relationships’ with other pupils because he does not live there.
“We would make sure that the transition went as smoothly as it possibly could, but it would be damaging for him,” she said.
Joanne Jones, whose three children attend the school, said: “There’s no school that can provide what our school provides. The children are just so happy there.”
Parents have launched a crowdfunder in order to seek legal advice over the situation – see the fundraising page here.
Andrew Griffith, the MP for Arundel and South Downs, echoed parents’ concerns in a letter to the council in which he called for the school to be removed from the consultation process – just as had been recently done for Stedham Primary School.
In his letter, he highlighted the concerns felt amongst parents, staff and residents who have set out their own strong reasons to keep the small school open.
He points out that a small mainstream setting offers an important choice for parents across West Sussex who do so for their children’s education and wellbeing.
Mr Griffith said he met parents, pupils and staff at the school in January and said: “The parents whom I spoke to impressed on me the reasons for choosing a small school to support their children’s unique needs.
“None of the parents felt their children would cope in a larger school or receive the special attention they currently do to help progress their learning and confidence.
“The leadership of the school ensures that special needs are met in the same setting as the mainstream pupils and without detriment to other pupils.
“It is a happy and caring school with engaged pupils and dedicated teachers and staff.”
He said that funding was not an issue for the school, which is declared to be in good financial health, and notes that the Government was increasing funding for primary schools with a planned increase in 2020-21 from the current minimum per pupil amount of £3,500 to £3,750, and a further increase to £4,000 in 2021-22.
Mr Griffith also drew attention to the ‘far-reaching impact’ he said that closure would have on families and the local community, where the school has been located for over 200 years with strong links to the local church.
“A village school is attractive for new families and Clapham needs to continue to attract young people to live in the village to benefit the local community,” he said.
“There are a number of substantial housing development plans being proposed for this constituency and across West Sussex and in the context of this future expectation of substantial population growth we may shortly be facing a shortage of schools and school places.”
Pan Panayiotou, chief executive of the South Downs Education Trust, said the trust was working with all stakeholders in order to find ‘a sustainable and viable way to make sure that Clapham and Patching remains open and serves the community’.
A county council spokesman said the school was identified for consultation due to its low pupil numbers over several years and its reliance on drawing pupils from outside its community, putting its future viability in question.
“We have been working with the school for some time to look at its options,” the spokesman said.
“Following an initial consultation, Cabinet decided in January to consult on closure, while supporting the school as it continues to discuss academisation proposals.
“Together with the Diocese, we will review any viable proposal prior to any submission to the Regional Schools Commissioner.”
The consultation closes on March 16.