'Why do we not have a third option?' — Heated consultation held on future of Chichester primary school

"Sprinkle in a bit of a common sense, and it does not make sense to close this school."

Friday, 8th November 2019, 12:15 pm
Concerned and shocked residents, past and present parents and former students of Rumboldswhyke school have rallied against the closure proposal. Photo: Kate Shemilt

Those were the words of Jamie Fitzjohn, county councillor for Chichester South, at a heated consultation on the future of Rumboldswhyke Infants' School last night.

Led by Paul Wagstaff, director of education and skills at West Sussex County Council, the consultation gave parents, past and present, and councillors the chance to share their views on the two options that are being explored; academisation or closure. Views are also being sought about the school itself, and the support it proves children, and also on the future educational needs of children in Chichester. It comes after five small primary schools, including Rumboldswhyke, Compton and Up Marden CE Primary School and Stedham Primary School,were identified as potentially vulnerable by the county council.

After being told it required improvement in 2017, Rumboldswhyke was given a formal warning notice in 2018 and was rated inadequate by Ofsted in 2019. In four years, the number of pupils in each year group (PAN) has reduced from 124 to 48.

Mr Wagstaff said where a school is inadequate, the local authority has a 'responsibility to review that school' to see what the options are.

He said: "Rumboldswhyke had an inspection in May which deemed it to be inadequate. A plan is then put in place which is outside the local authority's control. We then have to academise it or see if it has to close. The options for this school are very limited."

A number of parents questioned why it had been 'allowed to get to this point' and also why more support can't be given to avoid the school's closure.

Mr Wagstaff said 'a lot of work and additional funding' had gone into improving the school, but didn't achieve the desired result.

He added: "We were not convinced that the school was making the progress based on the amount of support that had been going in. It was at that point, a formal notice was given.

"The future options are taken out of our control."

Mr Wagstaff said the county council has been in contact with 'various academy trusts' but no interest had yet been received. He said an academy order had been 'held back' until after the consultation's conclusion on November 25.

Cristina Vitan, a parent at the school who helped set up a petition against the proposed closure, said: "I am very happy with the school. I think the teaching here is excellent. I think the Ofsted inspection did not reflect the school's quality or teaching."

Another parent asked: "Why is there not a third option to help the school get better? I'm heartbroken that this has happened."

Mr Wagstaff reiterated that there was no further option to the two on the table.

Another parent said there was 'absolutely no way' Rumboldswhyke should have been rated inadequate, highlighting the exceptional support her child was given at the school. Another lady said 'you can see a Rumboldshyke child' in her daughter, and highlighted the need for smaller schools.

Concerns were also raised about where children would be moved to and how easily they would adjust to their new environment. One parent said: "My child has only just settled in and has learnt so much at this school. It will be an absolute nightmare if he is forced to go somewhere else."

A number of people, including councillor Sarah Sharp, expressed concern about the affects it would have on the environment, with more people having to travel further to take their children to school by car.

The decision to conduct only a one-day long inspection, with 'little notice', was also heavily criticised by parents at the consultation. One man called it 'absurd and disgraceful'.

Jamie Fitzjohn, county councillor for Chichester South, said: "I have worked in the financial service industry my whole life and I do inspections but when you find things that are wrong, you give them time to sort things out. You then come back in five/six months later and review how things are going.

"I really cannot believe that this is the way that we are going. The school is deemed inadequate after one day and now this.

"We had an inspection at the fire and rescue service and they were deemed to be failing in three areas and inadequate in one of them. We didn't close our fire and rescue service. We brought in a fantastic chief commissioner to change that.

"Sprinkle in a bit of a common sense, and it does not make sense to close this school. Chichester District Local Plan is developing over 325 houses. It doesn't make sense to close a school to, later on, have to open a new school. That would be financial ruin.

"The last time I was in this school, the children here taught me how to cross that pedestrian crossing. This school is a fantastic, nurturing school and it should not close."

The consultation period, which started on October 7, is due to end on November 25. Click here to have your say