‘Bombshell’ revelation in fight to keep Chichester school open
Further questions over the future of an ‘inadequate’ Chichester school have surfaced this week, after an Ofsted visit found it had improved but an Freedom of Information ‘bombshell’ revealed a decision may already have been made.
After submitting a FOI request to West Sussex County Council, campaigners working to save Rumboldswhyke CofE Infants’ school from closure, received a copy of an email sent by Paul Wagstaff, director of education and skills, back in June.
The email, seen by this newspaper, read: “I have met with the regional school’s commissioner and outlined our plans including consultation on closure.
“He has therefore agreed not to put an academy order through on the understanding that we are aiming to move to close the school by the end of the academic year 2019-20.”
Rumboldswhyke was one of five small primary schools identified as potentially vulnerable by the county council this year. The consultation opened on October 7 and closed on November 25.
Attendees at a public meeting at Rumboldswhyke were told the school only had two options — academisation or closure.
Campaigners, who formed a ‘Save Rumboldswhyke School’ group and petition, said they ‘see this as a bombshell removing all pretence of consultation and explaining some otherwise puzzling behaviour’ .
A spokesman for the county council said: “No decision on any of the five schools has yet been made, including Rumboldswhyke.
“Any proposed change will be subject to a cabinet decision [in the new year] and would then go back out for consultation before a final decision.”
Meanwhile, an Ofsted ‘monitoring visit report’, revealed the school has improved since being rated inadequate in May.
In the report, Kathryn Moles, Her Majesty’s Inspector, said: “Since they joined the school in September, the impact of the headteacher’s and senior teacher’s work cannot be overstated. Their clear direction, support and training are enabling staff to build their confidence and expertise. Staff are determined and keen to do their absolute best for pupils.
“Consequently, standards are rising. Parents trust leaders to address the weaknesses identified at the last inspection.
“They expressed their confidence emphatically in the letters sent in during the inspection.
“Senior leaders have secured the confidence of pupils, parents and the local community. This is helping the school to move forward successfully towards a common goal.”
The campaign group spokesperson said the report ‘paints a very good picture of the school’.
They added: “We congratulate the head teacher and her team for their hard work and huge amount of progress achieved in a very short time. We are asking West Sussex County Council, once again, to consider all options or delay the decision making process until a full Ofsted inspection can be undertaken.”
Headteacher Debbie Allen and chairman of the Interim Executive Board, Kevin Jenkins, said: “We are really pleased with the outcome of our first monitoring visit.
“Whilst this was not a full inspection of the school, it does show that as a school we have responded effectively to the concerns identified last May by Ofsted when they formally inspected the school.”
The school stressed that this was a ‘first monitoring visit’ to check that the urgent matters identified in the inspection report in May 2019 were being addressed. The Ofsted grading for the school of inadequate remains unchanged.
The county council spokesman said ‘safeguarding was identified as an issue’ when the inadequate rating was given but said it was pleased that inspectors ‘have confirmed that the school is taking effective action’.
He added: “The improvement plan and local authority support plan were both judged ‘fit for purpose’ and the interim headteacher recognised for their work to improve pupils’ learning.”