Chichester secondary school offers ill-fated infants’ school a glimmer of hope

Fresh hope has been given to a Chichester primary school facing closure this summer.

Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 6:18 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th February 2020, 2:13 pm
Fresh hope has been given to a Chichester primary school facing closure this summer. Rumboldswhyke CofE Infants School has been offered support by Bishop Luffa headteacher Austen Hindman SUS-200226-172601001

After being left with only two options — acadmisation or closure — Rumboldswhyke CofE Infants’ School looked to be running out of options after West Sussex councillors voted to go ahead with a consultation last month.

This week, neighbouring secondary school Bishop Luffa has offered its support. 

“Church schools offer families a distinctive education for their children and it is important to us at Bishop Luffa that this remains an option across the city,” said Bishop Luffa headteacher Austen Hindman.

“We would like to be part of Rumboldswhyke’s future and hope that this is considered as part of the consultation.”

West Sussex County Council said it was aware that Bishop Luffa has ‘indicated an interest’ in academising Rumboldswhyke, ‘if it was to convert to a through primary school’.

A spokesman added: “However, as we have stated publicly, there is a surplus of Key Stage 2 school places within the Chichester area, so increasing this would put unreasonable pressure on other schools with capacity.”

Bill Sharp, a former parent at Rumboldswhyke, said there could be a ‘really bright future’ for the school if Bishop Luffa was given permission to help. 

He added: “It’s hugely frustrating to have the county council standing in the way, repeatedly claiming that Rumboldswhyke is unpopular and needs shutting down.”

A spokesperson for campaign group Save Rumboldswhyke School said the authorities should let Bishop Luffa ‘fulfill the vision to have all-through primary schools’.

They added: “The council care more about free spaces at KS2 than they care about the children who have no places and no choice at KS1 level. Free spaces is more important to the council than children.

“The department of education at WSCC are squeezing children into oversubscribed schools or pushing them into failing primary schools.”

This comes as a new Freedom of Information request by parents revealed another email from the council’s education department, back in April 2019, which suggests the decision to close was made before the consultation period began.

The email read: “The leader of the council and lead member are in agreement to pursue closure quickly, target date August 2020.”

Responding, the county council said it had concerns about the performance of the school since 2017, when it required improvement according to Ofsted. It added that the further ‘inadequate’ inspection last year ‘confirmed our concerns’. 

A spokesman said: “It was apparent last year that insufficient progress had been made and we contacted Ofsted to inform them of our plan to consult on the future options of the school, including closure, given falling educational standards and low pupil numbers. 

“A consultation on the future of the school is open until March 16. We will consider the results fully before recommending next steps and encourage people who would like to, to take part and share their views.”

Sarah Sharp, city and district councillor for Chichester South said next week ‘will be key for the campaign to save the school’.

She added: “With the public consultation evening taking place on March 3 in the Assembly Room, we need as many people as possible to attend.

“It will be a challenge to meet the legal costs that the group is facing but we are exploring every avenue open to us to save the school.

“The letter from Mr Hindman from Bishop Luffa opens up an exciting future for the school but we still have a fairly bumpy ride ahead of us. “Members of the team are busy writing to Ofsted, the MP, the Diocese and the Regional Schools’ Commissioner to try and get the predetermined decision to close the school reversed.”

The campaign team said it is in the process of becoming a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) to be registered with the Charity Commission and is taking legal advice.

A spokesperson said: “Campaigners realise that they will need to fundraise to support this aspect of the campaign and they will be launching their fundraising efforts with an afternoon tea.

“The fundraising tea party will take place in St George’s Centenary Centre, Cleveland Road, Chichester, PO19 7AD on Saturday, February 29 from 2.30pm.

“There will be activities for the children including making a banner and bunting to support the campaign. Residents and parents are encouraged to come along to hear about the progress of the campaign.”