Nigel Phillips. Chairman of Chillerton and Gatcombe Parish Council and Save our School
Once upon a time the primary school in Chillerton had an Ofsted rating of ‘Good’ and was successful. No longer. Now the school roll has plummeted and the Ofsted rating is ‘Requires improvement’. There is a large and growing financial deficit.
Some years ago, the school was taken into the Stenbury Federation with schools in Wroxall and Godshill. Wroxall, the most successful of the three, has since left, seeing perhaps the writing on the wall.
Then the federation did some strange things. They closed the successful pre-school class at Chillerton. Then they transferred Reception and Year Six to Godshill. The Parish Council in Chillerton and Gatcombe wrote to the school at the time asking about their intentions but with no reply.
The federation then appeared surprised that, seeing a school that required improvement, whose pre-school had been stripped away and whose reception and year six were being bussed to Godshill, parents chose not to send their children there. Stenbury requested consultation on a closure. The council, which in this case means Hampshire, then botched an informal consultation on closure.
Since March a local group, Save our School, supported by Chillerton and Gatcombe Parish Council, has been mounting an energetic opposition to closure.
On taking over as cabinet member for education in May, Councillor Debbie Andre announced a pause in the closure process and commissioned a report on options for the school’s future. While this means that Chillerton and Rookley Primary School stays open in September, the threat remains. What is provided has been reduced further. Year one joins reception and year six in Godshill. Wrap-around care is withdrawn, so parents who work nine to five have problems. There will only be one teacher and teaching assistant with a single class. And, surprise surprise, parents are sending their children elsewhere.
We recognise that just saying ‘keep the school open’ is insufficient. We must put forward a plan that leads to a viable and secure future for the school. We believe we have done exactly that.
The proposals depend on the school at Chillerton leaving the Stenbury Federation and having a new Governing Body. The new governing body would apply for academy status. This would present the opportunity to collaborate with a secondary school to share costs and facilities and provide specialist teaching support in subjects such as drama and music.
It is expected that this arrangement with an enriched educational offering and association with a secondary school would be very attractive to parents, and that Chillerton and Rookley school would rapidly be fully subscribed.
Pupils will have a stable and enriched education. The local authority will no longer have to worry about an increasing deficit that they will be liable for if they close the school.
We have presented this plan to Hampshire.
Everyone wins. This is a proposition that the local authority would be foolish to turn down.