WEST SUSSEX County Council has insisted no decisions have been made regarding the future of five small schools – but it would like to consult on closing one of them.
The future of the schools – including Compton and Up Marden Primary, Chichester; Rumboldswhyke Infants, Chichester and Stedham Primary, Midhurst – will be the focal point of a public consultation due to start on October 4.
That future could involve moving, merging with other schools, forming a federation – two or more schools operating under one governing body – or closing.
As part of its school effectiveness strategy, adopted last year, the council considered the schools to be at risk because of problems such as falling numbers and financial viability.
Staff, governors and parents filled the public gallery at County Hall last Wednesday, when Mr Paul Wagstaff, director of education and skills, told a meeting of the children and young people’s services select committee that nothing had been set in stone.
For one school, though, the future looks bleak.
Mr Wagstaff said: “For Rumboldswhyke CE Infants School, the options are very limited. We would like to consult on the closure of this school – but for others there may be a whole range of options worth considering.”
Some committee members raised concerns about the way the schools had been selected, claiming that some information provided was not accurate and that governing bodies had not been involved enough in the process.
As such, Cllr Kirsty Lord asked for a task and finish group to be set up to look at things in detail before any consultation was held.
Looking at the lengthy report provided to the committee, she said: “My understanding is this information hasn’t even been formally shared with the schools, that the governing bodies have not been heavily involved with this, that some of the information in here that is incorrect has not had the chance to be corrected before it’s come to us because there has been so little engagement with the schools.”
After a lengthy discussion, the committee supported the idea of a consultation and agreed that the task and finish group’s work would run in parallel.
Its findings would be brought back to a later meeting of the committee, which would then make its recommendations to Cllr Richard Burrett, cabinet member for education and skills.
Whatever the recommendations, the final decision would rest with him.
Mr Burrett is expected to announce the proposals for each school in January or February. There will be six weeks for people to have their say before he makes a final decision in February or March.
The decisions will take effect on August 31, 2020.
Report by Karen Dunn, local democracy reporter