Legal threat to school governors over planned Yarmouth closure

Yarmouth Primary School governors are coming under further intense pressure from the local community to re-think their support for the closure of the school, and the relocation of its young pupils to a re-built site in Freshwater.

The governing body initially opposed the plan, but then made a surprise U-turn during last summer’s school holidays. That prompted one governor, and former deputy head, Mark Webber, to resign.

Now there is the threat of legal action by campaigners fighting to save the school. A letter has been sent to chair of governors Carla Bradshaw by solicitors acting on behalf of Keep Yarmouth School in Yarmouth campaigners, calling on the governing body to abandon the plans or face a judicial review.

The campaigners’ legal letter stated: “Proper consultation was particularly important given that the Council had already, unlawfully and unfairly, purported to exercise a power to affect the proposed transfer and those affected were distrustful of the council. The consultation now being carried out cannot satisfy the standard and fundamental public law requirement.”

Ms Bradshaw said it would be inappropriate to comment on behalf of the governors while the decision was pending.

The IW Council recently released its latest report on plans to reduce the number of surplus school places in the West Wight, and the report that went before cabinet last night recommended the closure of All Saints CE Primary School in Freshwater, providing the Yarmouth governors support moving their school to the Freshwater site.

Steve Cowley, the Mayor of Yarmouth was planning to make another plea to the Isle of Wight Council cabinet last night to reconsider, and Kevin Shaw, former chair of the Yarmouth School governors, added his weight to halting the relocation by claiming it would rip the heart out of the local community. He also questioned whether there are even funds available to re-build on the site of All Saints School in Freshwater.

Mr. Cowley was hoping to convince Cabinet members to re-think their plan by pointing out that the Keep Yarmouth School in Yarmouth campaign is ‘a determined and well-funded group and our legal team know that neither you nor the governors have followed all the correct legal procedures’.

He continued: “I am therefore offering an olive branch. Will you meet with us to discuss the way forward that will fulfil both of our ambitions in providing the best education for the children of the West Wight whilst not damaging Yarmouth’s community?

“We are a large community as many people in Freshwater and Shalfleet parishes identify with it. There are over 30 businesses in the town who oppose closing Yarmouth school. Tapnell Farm Park, one of the Island’s major tourist attractions is in the Thorley ward of Yarmouth Town Council, and has supported our campaign.”

Kevin Shaw was the Chair of Governors at Yarmouth School who led the fight with the IW Council in 2008-10 to prevent its closure in the restructuring of Island schools into a two-tier system, not least by working to establish its successful federation with Shalfleet.

A former teacher who has worked in education throughout his career, he said: “The idea is to pack all the children from All Saints into Yarmouth School and temporarily overload it for perhaps two years until a new school on the current All Saints site in Freshwater is built with money which has never been validated. No one appears to have ever seen a single piece of written evidence that the money is there, or even promised.

“Whenever there have been public meetings, and in all presentations, there is talk about an earmarked fund, but no one can tell us how much it is, when it is going to happen, or if indeed, it will. To me it beggars belief that either the IW Council/Cabinet or the Governors of Yarmouth & Shalfleet, are following this complex and ambitious plan based on something that has not yet been verified by anybody. I think this whole scheme appallingly disruptive, educationally ill-conceived and riddled with a lack of logic.

“It is awful for the parents of Yarmouth, as it is for those of All Saints, who do not know with any certainty what will happen to their children. Initially, last summer the school Governors took their time to consider the proposal carefully, but, having done so, concluded it was not feasible, and rejected it with extensive well-reasoned logic. With their continued opposition, the whole extraordinary idea would have collapsed and more sensible alternatives sought.

“Unfortunately, they were clearly put under undue pressure by County Hall and suddenly announced a complete volt-face, fearful of the alternatives. Had I still been involved, I would have stood my ground against it, and I think we would have won the case for common sense.

“Beyond all this, something that seems to have been ignored by everyone is that this will be a terrible loss to what is one of the tightest, most active communities you could find anywhere. The children are the key ingredient and heavily involved in so many events in the local community every year: Pancake Races in the Square, Easter Duck races on the river, Carnival Week, torchlight procession and Fireworks, Carols in the Square. It would be a tragedy for both the community and the children to lose all that by moving them to Freshwater.”

Councillor Paul Brading, cabinet member responsible for education said: I do not know what decision the governors will make on Monday, but the Council responded positively to their request for support to move Yarmouth School to the Freshwater site if that was the outcome of their consultation. I would find it very disappointing if people are attempting to tie up educational progress in any form of legal challenge.