‘I’m going to lose my job and I’ve never been rated inadequate’ - Impact of Chichester primary school closure would include devastating job losses
“I don’t know how you can live with yourself if you close this school.”
Those were the words of one of the parents given a chance to voice their concerns about the future of Rumboldswhyke CofE Infants’ School on Tuesday night — but many fear they are not being listened to.
Following a heated consultation at the primary school in November, directors from West Sussex County Council oversaw an equally impassioned discussion at the Assembly Rooms in North Street this week.
Paul Wagstaff, director of education and skills, addressed a number of factors including the academisation proposal by Bishop Luffa to create an all-through primary school.
Speaking at the meeting, Bishop Luffa business manager Mark Nicholds said: “I know Rumboldswhyke has had a huge positive impact on its local community. We would provide a consistent school ethos which would be attractive to parents and children from the age of four through to 18. We don’t want to jeopardise pupil numbers in other schools.
“We are proposing a church school which serves one community well and I’d ask you to reconsider.”
Councillor and campaigner Sarah Sharp also pleaded for the consultation to be pulled, adding: “Please give this small community school a chance.”
Mr Wagstaff said they contacted various academy trusts, including from the diocesan, but ‘there wasn’t an interest’. He said discussions were also held with the headteacher of Bishop Luffa in the autumn, who expressed an interest ‘on the understanding that it would be an all-through primary school’.
However, he said a challenge was created by the ‘250 surplus KS2 places’, which would ‘affect other schools in the city’. He said it was not ‘on the agenda’ to increase this number but they ‘may change’.
District councillor Adrian Moss said Mr Nicholds couldn’t have put a ‘better or more inspiring plea’ about how Bishop Luffa could give children at Rumboldswhyke a ‘real chance’.
He added: “Please listen and understand Chichester deserves small schools where children can be nurtured and loved.”
Also discussed were claims that the decision to close the school was predetermined before the opening of the consultation period.
On the ‘various emails’ revealed by FOI requests, Mr Wagstaff reiterated that after two years of support from the county council, standards at Rumboldswhyke were ‘still declining’ and the school was ‘not pulling itself forward’.
He added: “We had to have a discussion about where the school was going in the future.”
Mr Wagstaff touched on the Ofsted monitoring visit in December. He said the report noted the school had ‘begun to make improvements’ after its inadequate rating but there was still ‘a long way to go’.
Claire Blacklock, the ‘only remaining permanent teacher’ at Rumboldswhyke, demanded an explanation for the negative comments about the quality of teaching.
“I’m going to lose my job,” she said. “You talk about inadequate teaching and I would like to know when you, or anyone from the county, came to observe me.
“I was observed by Ofsted and my teaching was deemed good. I was not inadequate.”
The campaign group Save Rumboldswhyke School is in the process of becoming a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO).
A fundraising tea party was held on Saturday, raising £260.22. Councillor Sharp said that was ‘just over one tenth of the amount we need to challenge the county council’s decision’.
She added: “It was good to see so many people of all ages having fun, enjoying themselves and working together for a common aim to save the local school which is very much at the heart of the community.
“Knowing that parents from Whyke are sending their children out to schools in Sidlesham, Bosham, Fishbourne, Bury, Adldingbourne, Rose Green is extremely worrying. It leads to a fragmented community — neighbours not knowing neighbours and over-reliance on fossil fuel powered transport.
To donate, please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/save-rumboldswhyke-infant-school/donate.