Loss of small village school would be 'devastating' for community

"We don't want them to close the school — it's a vital part of the community in the middle of nowhere."

Monday, 18th November 2019, 3:08 pm
Compton and Up Marden CE Primary School. Photo: Google Street View

Those were the words of a parent at Compton and Up Marden CE Primary School, which was one of five small primary schools identified as potentially vulnerable by West Sussex County Council (WSCC) earlier this year.

As part of the consultation period, which ends on November 25, the county council has held public meetings at each of the five schools — Compton and Up Marden, Rumboldswhyke CofE Infants School, Stedham Primary School, Warninglid Primary School and Clapham & Patching CofE Primary School.

Last Monday, Paul Wagstaff, director of education, led the final discussion at Compton and Up Marden school.

A school spokesman said: "More than 200 parents and local residents turned out on a cold, damp evening to show huge support

"Five criteria are being considered — no change, partnership, federation, academisation or closure.

"There followed an orderly but sometimes passionate debate with many disgruntled parents and others asking hard-hitting questions of the WSCC representatives."

Wendy Evans, who has a seven-year-old daughter at the school, told the Observer that the closure of the school would be the worst possible outcome.

She said: "We are based in a small rural area. All the other schools are four or five miles away and are over prescribed.

"We don't want them to close the school. It's a vital part of the community in the middle of nowhere. There is nowhere else close nearby so we would have to travel out. What will happen to the children?

"The school is in a good financial position and the county council have only recently funded two new buildings for mobile classrooms. A new hall was also built a few years ago so why would they go and do this now?"

Wendy said some parents have already pulled their children out of the school 'out of fear of it closing and not having anywhere to send them'.

She added: "They don't want to be in that situation. It is also putting people off applying for next year.

"[At the consultation], the school was filled to the brim with parents, teachers and people from the local businesses.

"The children are all happy and settled and the staff are amazing.

"The school has been running for over 100 years and would be devastating to lose and would also make the local shop lose a lot of trade."

According to the school, 'anomalies' with the statutory target number of pupils on roll at the school 'as well as the limitations of the school’s declared catchment area' were key subjects discussed at the consultation.

The spokesman added: "Parents, grandparents and a former pupil spoke up on behalf of the school with sometimes emotional and heartfelt praise of the excellent education their children had and were receiving.

"Representatives of local businesses that benefit from the school as well as the many clubs and organisations that make full use of the school’s community hall also voiced their considerable support for the school.

"Gillian Keegan [Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Chichester] summed up the tone of the meeting by reviewing the important role that the school fulfils within the local community and wished the school every success in the future."

According to the school, one local resident commented after the meeting: “The strength of feeling within that meeting was amazing.

"You don’t realise what a great little school this is until you hear the parents speak up. If the school hasn’t got a secure future after that then the council will have a lot to answer for in my view."