A class result!

By IW Observer.co.uk May 14, 2022

Campaigners were jubilant this week after their 170-year-old village school was saved from closure.

An announcement by Cllr Debbie Andre, Isle of Wight Council cabinet member for education, delivered a reprieve for Chillerton & Rookley Primary School, which its governing body, the Stenbury Federation wanted to close and amalgamate with Godshill Primary School.

The decision followed several rounds of consultation over the school’s future, one of which, under the previous Conservative administration, was criticised for flawed processes and was the subject of complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman.

The number of pupils last October had fallen to just 21, but according to parents, that was due to uncertainty about the future and the decision, in 2019, to move the pre-school, Reception and Year 6 classes to Godshill, on a ‘temporary basis’.

In a letter to a parent earlier this year, assistant director of education, Brian Pope said: ‘temporary arrangements cannot be in place for more than two years without a formal consultation’. With the two years now up, campaigners are hoping that the missing classes will now be moved back to their village school to help it flourish.

During the initial consultation, it was stated that the school was financially unsustainable and could not provide the required breadth of curriculum. However, as well as ordering the school to remain open, Cllr Andre has tasked officers with making sure that the school is well-supported. She said she is committed to finding an Island appropriate model to support other small primary schools facing falling pupil numbers and financial challenges.

Cllr Andre said: “In recent years, we’ve seen some rural schools close and others under threat. The Alliance group gave a commitment to reconsider these closure plans. We met with the local community, teachers and parents and we listened. There was a passion and enthusiasm for the school that couldn’t be denied. It’s not just about the school itself, it’s about the effect on the whole community.

“We have worked closely with our education officers and I’m grateful for their professionalism and support in finding solutions. There is still much work to do and this is just the beginning, but we are up for the challenge.”

Save our School spokesman, Keith Herbert said the group was delighted with the outcome which gives a bright future for rural schools. He added: “Very few places have such a strong community backing and the school was saved by so many people offering their help. Our heartfelt thanks goes out to everyone.

“We look forward to full provision being restored to this beautiful site so that it can flourish once again.”

Both he and the group’s chairmann Nigel Phillips also paid tribute to Cllr Andre, with Mr Phillips adding: “This decision is a wonderful example of the people speaking and politicians actually listening.”

Local councillor, Suzie Ellis, said she was pleased an announcement had been made on the school’s future and welcomed any initiative to deliver high quality and sustainable education locally.

Some of her Conservative colleagues seemed less pleased at the outcome, At the Corporate Scrutiny meeting on Tuesday, Cllr Chris Quirk said his 10 years of experience in education made him sceptical that small schools could remain open without affecting budgets for other schools. Tory group leader Cllr Joe Robertson agreed with him, and was noncommittal whether he believed the school should remain open.

However, Cllr Andre said a number of options were being considered and she was confident a model could be found, taking a ‘whole Island’ approach.

Diana Barker, the current chairwoman of governors, said now the decision had been made, they were planning for staffing and structures to be in place for September.