Parents fighting to save their school

By Chris Cornford Mar 9, 2021

A parent of two children at Chillerton and Rookley Primary School (C&RPS) asked school leaders how he was supposed to explain to his tearful three-year-old son that he hadn’t done anything wrong when: ‘in not so many words, it was made clear he wasn’t welcome back at the school’.

Keith Herbert’s contribution was one of a number of personal experiences that parents and others brought to a meeting of Chillerton and Gatcombe Parish Council on Tuesday evening (March 2). They also made it plain that they believed that the Stenbury Federation that runs both C&RPS and Godshill Primary School, were not playing fair with them. The Stenbury Foundation have asked the Isle of Wight Council to run an ‘informal consultation’ on whether C&RPS should be closed due to low numbers of children attending.

Interim executive headteacher Mark Snow, who transformed the fortunes of Newport’s Barton Primary School when Ofsted judged it to be failing, has not been able to work his magic on the two schools run by the Stenbury Federation. Or if he has, the lack of Ofsted inspections due to the Covid pandemic has not given him the chance to prove it. He was joined at the meeting by the chairwoman of governors Di Barker and school improvement officer, Natalie Smith, who thanked the meeting for allowing her to ‘stand alongside Mark and Di today’.
Parents are angry that the pre-school has been closed and Year 1 and Year 6 of their school moved to Godshill. With many saying the school ‘hadn’t got a chance’ under those circumstances. One attendee said it had been known for years that there was a desire to close the school, with Mr Snow answering that he had no ‘financial or emotional gain’ in doing so.
They also questioned whether the school should stay under the control of the Stenbury Federation, believing it may be better to ‘go it alone’ or become part of a multi-school academy. They were told that all options would be examined if a decision was made to move to a formal consultation.

A number of parents said that standards had fallen in both schools since they were federated, a charge vigorously defended by Di Barker, who acknowledged the drop in standards but said it had not happened on her watch. Mr Snow said ‘it was ‘a matter of bums on seats, if they are not there the school is difficult to manage with a budget that is shrinking by the day’.
One person said he had been advised by a specialist lawyer that even informal consultations should be balanced and fair, with a number of parents clearly believing the current one is not. A later enquiry to the Isle of Wight Council about asking whether the advice Mr Herbert had received was correct was not answered instead a comment was made that ‘the governing body are being open and transparent about the challenges the school is facing’.
Local councillor Steve Hasting said he had written into the consultation. He later said: “It’s a matter of numbers, sense and logic, the position they’re in, and of course parental choice. I think the school should be given a chance to boost that parental choice.

WPerhaps it can stand on its own two feet if it’s given time and support. It really doesn’t help not having the preschool, it didn’t stand a chance. I think it should have a chance and I would hate to see a rural school close.”
MP Bob Seely, who attended a previous meeting about the future of the school said his words had been taken out of context, when he was quoted as saying he would write a letter but it ‘would not do any good’. He said what he meant was: “I said I would write to the council to object. I did, however, fear that this may not be enough in itself to save the school. I am hoping that more people in the village will also object to the closure. I will be sending my letter to the IW Council shortly.”

Views on the consultation can be submitted to until March 19.