Isle of Wight Council proposals for the future of a 170-year-old primary school were described as ‘an utter farce’ this week, after the council added a new document to a consultation which had closed 11 days earlier.
Parents and local residents formed the Save Our School (SOS) group after the council started consulting ‘on the principle of closing Chillerton and Rookley Primary School’ at the request of the Stenbury Federation which runs the school and Godshill Primary. The consultation ran from January 29 until March 19.
The council put information on their website, including a link to statutory Department for Education (DfE) guidance on ‘Opening and Closing Maintained Schools’ and another document, written by the council, which said ‘Legally there is no such position as an amalgamation of two schools’.
As it became clear that the law and government guidelines were not being followed, campaigners were told the council was following a completely different process. They said they were amalgamating the two schools, a process they had claimed didn’t exist.
The SOS group turned to the DfE. The advice they received on Wednesday (March 31) was clear, the council should be following the closure process. When this was communicated to the council, they took swift action. Not to admit any mistakes but to add further information to the already closed consultation. A website link appeared to ‘Making significant changes (‘prescribed alterations’) to maintained schools: 2018’. Officers now claim the two schools can be amalgamated under a streamlined procedure.
A spokesman for the SOS group said: “This is an utter farce – talk about moving the goalposts!
“Islanders have not forgotten that Ofsted tore into a previous Conservative-led council for ‘poor corporate and strategic leadership’ of the reorganisation to two tiers. We’re now paying Hampshire County Council more than £2 million a year to run our Children’s Services, and they’re still getting it wrong.
“We are still investigating around £100,000 the school appears to have used on restructuring consultants. The Stenbury Federation refused to answer our questions, but the law is clear, the school must publish all expenditure over £5,000.
“No matter what the council and the federation throw at us, we know our school is worth saving. The real work is still to be done – but we are up for the fight.
“The school’s staff are doing an outstanding job under difficult circumstances. We thank them for always putting our children first.
“We’ve also really appreciated all the support the IW Observer has given– it’s a truly local paper, trying to help us get to the bottom of this mess.”
Nobody seems to have told council chief executive, John Metcalfe about officer’s new plans to amalgamate the school instead of closing it. In a statement issued on Wednesday he said: “The council has not yet considered any proposals to close this school. Were it to do so it would have to follow guidance provided by the Department for Education which sets out the case for closure which in the case of a rural school must be clearly in the best interests of educational provision in the area.”
The SOS spokesman added: “It’s clear to everybody involved that the IW Council is in a complete mess over this. Why can’t they just admit it and start discussing the best way to move forward? Our children’s education is far more important than saving face.”
A formal complaint has been submitted, with campaigners ready to escalate their concerns to the Local Government Ombudsman, who recently published a highly critical report on the Children’s Services department, which is run by Hampshire CC but remains the responsibility of the Isle of Wight Council.