Parents at a primary school targeted for closure say parents elsewhere on the Island should be alarmed about the plans, because their school could be next.
The Isle of Wight Council is running an informal consultation on proposals to close Chillerton and Rookley Primary School and transfer pupils to Godshill Primary. Both schools are run by the Stenbury Federation, who say that, with just 35 pupils – and no applications to joint the school this year – the Chillerton site is no longer viable and closing it would secure the future of Godshill school.
However, parents and other campaigners who want to save the school are calling foul because, they say, a decision taken last year to close the attached pre-school, sending out a clear signal that the school’s future was in doubt. They claim it influenced parents’ choices, not least those of the 18 children in the pre-school at the time of closure.
Now the consultation itself is in the firing line. Keith Herbert, a parent of one child in Chillerton and Rookley School and another who was moved to the Godshill pre-school, says the process fails to meet government guidelines. After taking expert legal advice he has made an official complaint to the Department for Education. He said: “It’s really important that any consultation is fair, balanced and honest. In this case the supporting documentation was biased in favour of closure without any other option
s being considered. I want the Department for Education to investigate and, if they find that the consultation doesn’t follow Cabinet Office guidelines, it should be declared null and void.
“There is no reference to the benefits of small rural schools which, in my view unfairly, directs respondents to the closure argument.”
Adding that he had spoken to parents elsewhere who had not been made aware of the plans, he said: “The council hasn’t reached out to other likely receiving schools. The guidance is clear: all affected parties must be made aware, and that has not been done. In my view this falls far short of what is required.”
A spokesman for the Isle of Wight Council said: “This is a non-statutory, fact-finding bit of work to gauge stakeholder views and give them an opportunity at an early and non-statutory stage to make comments. It is not covered by statutory guidance and local discretion applies.”
He did however agree that even informal consultations must be ‘fair and balanced’ but added, ‘We cannot comment on legal opinion provided to others’.
Some local politicians are lining up to support the parents. Councillor Debbie Andre, for the Island Independents, issued a statement saying: “It would appear that the outcome of the consultation has been decided already as just another ‘tick box’ exercise. These smaller schools are at the heart of their communities and contribute greatly to village life; it’s not purely about economies of scale.”
Nick Stuart, for the IW Liberal Democrats, said: “We believe that the Stenbury Foundation and the education authority have failed the school, failed children and failed to support the local community.”
Jonathan Bacon, for Our Island party, also criticised the plans. He said: “Our Island is opposed to the closure of this school. Village schools are at the centre of local communities and should be retained wherever possible for the sake of those communities and the children within them.”
It is not the first time IW Conservatives have been criticised over school closures. A 2013 Ofsted report into the reorganisation from three to two tiers, when the council was led by David Pugh, noted: “Key decisions about resource deployment, school organisation and place planning have been characterised by poor analysis, limited consultation and weak implementation.”
Campaigners are now asking parents and all those who care about keeping small rural primaries open to respond to the current consultation by writing to the council at SandLBusinessSupport@IOW.gov.uk before March 19.