Chichester school saved from closure at eleventh hour

A Chichester school has been saved from closure at the eleventh hour and will instead be converted into an academy.

Monday, 15th June 2020, 5:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th June 2020, 2:57 pm
Rumboldswhyke pupils and campaigners pictured outside County Hall back in November

Parents and campaigners at Rumboldswhyke CE Infants’ School have spent most of the last year rallying support for their cause.

But the fight to save Rumboldswhyke appeared to over back in April when West Sussex County Council’s cabinet agreed to the school’s closure by September, arguing it was unviable.

This decision was then referred to the regional schools commissioner.

Today the Department for Education announced it is supporting the school to academise with Bishop Luffa as its sponsor.

Chichester MP Gillian Keegan has been involved since the start of the consultation process and has been supporting parents, teachers and the wider commmunity.

She made several representations to the county council and then continued to raise her concerns with the commissioners.

After the decision was finally raised to the highest level of Government, she met with her colleagues in the Department for Education to make a final plea for academisation over closure.

Mrs Keegan said: “This has been a long campaign to save a wonderful local school. I got involved to support the community, teachers and parents who have been the energy behind this campaign and without them, we would certainly be in a different place.

“We are very pleased that Bishop Luffa stepped in and put forward a proposal to academise Rumboldswhyke, bringing the school under their wing. Small, often rural, primary schools are a vital part of the education offer in the Chichester constituency. The focus for all of us should be to ensure that all of our children are receiving the best education possible.”

In a joint letter to parents, headteacher Debbie Allan and Kevin Jenkins, chair of the school’s interim executive board, explained that they were still awaiting a number of details on Rumboldswhyke’s academisation and would share any information when they received it.

They added: “Our priority over the coming weeks will remain to ensure that the children are able to access school and their learning and that they and the staff are kept safe and happy whilst doing so.

“Where applicable, we will continue to work with parents and pupils to ensure a smooth transition to other schools.

“Lastly, it would be remiss not to recognise the work of the campaign group that has worked so hard to get to this point to save Rumboldswhyke from closur

“Please be assured that the leadership team and the interim executive board will work with Bishop Luffa to ensure a smooth transition from being a maintained sector school to an academy.”

Meanwhile a spokesman for the county council said: “The Department for Education did not comment on and were not critical of the county council’s work and planning in relation to school effectiveness but have simply responded to requests from individual academy sponsors.

“The concerns we raised around the viability of the schools still stand and we remain committed to ensuring the long-term sustainability of West Sussex schools.

“We will continue to support the children and their schools and we look forward to working with the schools, the academy trusts and the RSC to support the process through the coming months. We wish the children well in their future.”

This follows on from work to keep both Stedham Primary and Compton and Up Marden CE schools open, which were both previously under threat of closure.

Conservative county councillor Jamie Fitzjohn said: “I galvanised and advised the campaign group so their voice was heard throughout the consultation.

“Therefore I am ecstatic with the decision to issue Rumboldswhyke CE Infant School an academy order, it is so good to see common sense prevail. The right outcome has been achieved for the parents and children of Chichester.”

Sarah Sharp, chairman of the Friends of Rumboldswhyke School and a Green district and city councillor, said: “Campaigners are overjoyed that ten months of intense campaigning have paid off. The last weeks of the campaign have been especially difficult emotionally as parents believed that they would have to find new schools under lockdown conditions.”

She felt they had ‘failed to find fair treatment let alone kindness and compassion from our county council’ and would be considering options for an official complaint.

She added: “We are relieved now that at least a positive and sensible decision has been taken to allow Rumboldswhyke to continue to serve its community and hopefully work its way back be being outstanding.”

James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group at County Hall, welcomed the announcement labelling it a ‘well-deserved victory for common sense, persistence, the facts and above all for the pupils now and to come’.

He added: “Liberal Democrats are delighted that parental choice has carried the day here, and look forward to early progress on their joining existing academy trusts, and ensuring continuity from the next school year in September.”

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