Parents have shared passionate testimonies of their children’s experience at a small Worthing primary school, describing it as a ‘special’ and ‘wonderful’ school.
They gave their views at a packed public meeting on Tuesday, which came the day after West Sussex County Council launched a consultation on the future of five small schools in the county, including Clapham and Patching primary school.
The consultation seeks views on several potential options for the school, which include federation, merger, academisation, relocation, no change or closure.
At the meeting, Graham Olway, head of school organisation and capital planning, said he feared many parents were ‘jumping to the feeling’ that closing was the only option.
But Paul Wagstaff, director of education and schools, stressed that this was just one of the options on the table.
He said the council would be consulting on all of the options until November 25, at which point the cabinet member would consider the findings and put forward a recommendation.
Depending on what is recommended, there could be a further consultation in the spring term.
Explaining the reasons behind the consultation, Mr Wagstaff explained that the school faced financial challenges because of the way funding was allocated by the government on a per pupil basis.
This was ‘out of the control’ of the county council, he stressed.
During the two hour meeting, many parents praised the small size of the school, its caring ethos and skilled teaching staff.
Many said their children had not fared well at mainstream schools but were ‘thriving’ at Clapham and Patching.
One said: “As far as I’m concerned, you couldn’t get a better school.”
The church warden from Patching church said she had seen for herself the ‘excellent progress’ many students had made.
Mr Wagstaff said it was clear from parents that there was a ‘unique ethos’ at the school.
David Longmore, the chair of governors, said governors had come up with a strategy to increase student numbers up to 63 but had ‘unfortunately’ not been able to achieve it.
He said they had not been helped by the county council issuing the news of the consultation in July – which he said had come as a ‘huge surprise’ and had led to six new pupils deciding not to join the school in September.
One parent agreed that the timing had ‘stumped’ admissions for this year and the next.
But Mr Wagstaff said the council was eager to hold the consultation over a short period of time.
“We wanted to try and finish the consultation as quickly as possible so that people know what the options are,” he said.
Mr Longmore said the governors were discussing all of the options available for the school going forward.
While one of the options included in the consultation is to do nothing, he said: “I think that no change is probably not an option because of the precarious financial situation at the school.
“Unless the numbers drastically increase in the near future, that is going to be an issue.
“I think we are going to have to change in some format, but we very much hope the school can stay there.”
Discussing the options available, one parent said relocating the school would not work, describing the location of the school as ‘key’ in giving children the opportunity to visit the church, the woods, the allotments.
Federation, another of the options presented, would mean two or three schools grouped together, remaining in their respective buildings but sharing expertise, Mr Wagstaff explained to the meeting.
But when asked, he said he was not able to say which schools it would form a federation with – saying it was too early to tell.
Many parents asked, if the school were to close, where their children would go.
They were told that there were places available at schools in the area and Mr Wagstaff said the council would support parents in finding in a school that suited them and their child.
Mr Wagstaff encouraged parents, residents and others members to take part in the consultation which can be found online here.
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