No one was left in any doubt as to the depth of passionate support for Stedham Primary School following a public meeting last month, the vice chairman of governors for the school has said.
Around 120 people packed out the school hall in Common View, Stedham, for the meeting, which came after West Sussex County Council launched a consultation on its future.
The school is one of five small schools in the county which has been identified as ‘potentially vulnerable’ and several potential options are being explored going forward – including federation, merger, academisation, relocation, no change or closure.
County council representatives witnessed ‘a tide of passionate support’ for the school, vice chairman Celia Billington said.
Parent after parent took the floor to provide heartfelt testimonials of the positive impact the school’s nurturing and caring approach has had on their children’s lives, she said.
Many people extolled the important role the small school had played in offering alternatives to larger educational establishments, she added,
“The plea from the floor was clear: recognise and value parental choice and preserve the balance between the area’s educational institutions,” Mrs Billington said.
Many people expressed anger that the school was even involved in the consultation exercise and gave forceful representations as to the perceived flaws in the process to date.
At the end of the evening the headteacher of the school, Malcolm Meaby, thanked those in attendance for their passionate support and reflected that officers had only provided responses to only ‘some’ of the questions raised, Mrs Billington said.
‘We mustn’t let it go’
Stedham Primary celebrates its 140th anniversary this year and the meeting was reminded of its role in the community.
John Hills, a Stedham resident for 83 years, said: “It’s a brilliant school, I started school here in 1940.
“We went through very hard and difficult times then, obviously you’ve been through them since, but I want to keep this school going, it’s an excellent, fantastic school.
“You’ve got brilliant staff here and a happy school makes a good educational school...we mustn’t let it go.
“We cannot afford to let this school go.”
John’s praise for the staff at Stedham was a recurring theme, as the meeting heard repeated praise for the time and approach taken by staff which ensures that every child can thrive.
Speaking directly to the county council officers present, one parent and Stedham resident said: “I want you to go away today and know that this school sits at the heart of our community.
“We have a huge friendship group, families, villagers; this school runs so many events throughout the year for the local community and surrounding villages.
“To change that in any way would be a huge loss to this community.”
‘Overwhelming support’ for school
Following the meeting, Mrs Billington said the school’s governors were left ‘none the wiser’ as to why Stedham had been included in the consultation but said the public show of support had delivered ‘a timely fillip to the entire school’.
Mrs Billington said: “Whilst none of us wish to be a part of this process the public meeting was uplifting for the staff and governors to hear such overwhelming support from parents, carers and the wider community.
“The blend of anger, passion and support from those present tonight was immensely satisfying.
“As a school we are at a moment of real progress and optimism.
“Hopefully the County Council’s officers will have seen just how much our school means to the community.”
Consultation deadline approaching
People are being encouraged to take part in the consultation before it closes on Monday, November 25.
Complete the survey at haveyoursay.westsussex.gov.uk/strategic-planning-and-place/rural-and-small-schools/consultation/
In a statement at the launch of the consultation, Richard Burrett, the county council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said the council was responsible for ensuring schools were ‘financially stable and sustainable into the future’.
“It is therefore important we explore options for the five schools which have been identified as potentially vulnerable,” he said.
“It is important to stress that no decisions have been made and I would encourage all members of the schools’ communities to take part in the consultation.”