By Kelly Wickham
Residents and parents are still campaigning hard to stop a city infant school from closing.
West Sussex County Council and the Church of England Diocese are currently seeking the views of interested parties regarding the proposal to close Rumboldswhyke C of E Infant School from August 31, 2020, with existing pupils transferring to other schools in the local area, subject to parental preference.
The formal consultation period commenced on February 3 and ends on March 16.
A meeting was held at the Assembly Rooms in North Street on Tuesday evening, with a brief presentation by the council followed by questions and comments from the public.
Making comments, included Cllr Jamie Fitzjohn, county councillor for Chichester South.
At the meeting he said: “You have said the school’s numbers have been in decline over the last three years. Well that is right because Central (junior) school have been inadequate for the last four years.
“That will have an impact. Would I send my grandson to a school that would mean going on to a school that was deemed inadequate?
“I have seen the email (Freedom of Information request) from Mark Jenner (former head of school effectiveness at the county council). At the last meeting we had I asked why can’t we ask Ofsted to come in and reinspect and I was told ‘We have no right to do that, county has no control and cannot influence Ofsted’.
“If that is the case, then how come on April 29, Mr Jenner requested that Ofsted do not make a visit through a consultation visit. Surely if you can make a request not to visit you can make a request to visit?”
A teacher from the school also spoke at the meeting. She said: “I’m going to lose my job. Paul Wagstaff (director of education and skills at the county council), you talked about inadequate teaching. I would like to know when you came or anyone from the council observed me.
“When I was observed by Ofsted, my teaching was deemed good. I was not inadequate.”
Mr Wagstaff said he made comments about the teaching and not teachers and had quoted from the Ofsted report.
He said: “Had the school gone through another inspection and was deemed not to be inadequate, that on its own would not have been enough for them to avoid them being either becoming an academy or being closed.”
The elephant in the room, also known as resident Bill Sharp, dressed in an elephant costume, stood up at one point and shouted: “You’ve denied this enough already. If there is no academisation order in place, a fresh inspection would mean the school could do what the hell it likes.”
Chichester city and district councillor Sarah Sharp said: “Residents have come to me with their worries and concerns that this decision to close the school was pre-decided.
“We have two Freedom of Information requests in black and white, from June last year and April 29 last year where it clearly says that the leader of the council (she is no longer there) and the lead member in charge of education were pushing to close this school.
“We have seen a consultation result of 90 per cent in support of Rumboldswhyke and want to keep it open.
“A select committee came up with a decision to defer the consultation to give the school a chance to see if we can save it. This was overturned by the cabinet.”
Mr Wagstaff spoke to the public about a number of issues which were circulating, including the Freedom of Information requests, and the proposal by Bishop Luffa to make it an all-through primary school.
However, he also explained the problem was that there were already 250 key stage 2 surplus places in Chichester so it could create issues for other schools.
He also said that Rumboldswhyke had been given two years of support from the council. He said that although a report from an Ofsted monitory visit in December had stated the school had “begun to make improvements”, he said “there was still a long way to go”.
On Saturday, at a tea party, which was the launch of a fundraising drive, the Rumboldswhyke campaign group raised £260.22, which is just over one tenth of the amount they need to challenge the county council’s decision to close Rumboldswhyke School.
Cllr Sharp said: “Thank you to those people who shared their stories of Rumboldswhyke going back four generations in one family all going to Rumboldswhyke School. Thank you also for all the faces that were painted – helping to make a memorable afternoon for the children.”
There were lots of people of all ages having fun, enjoying themselves and working together for a common aim to save the local school which is very much at the heart of the community.
Cllr Sharp added: “Knowing that parents from Whyke are sending their children out to schools in Sidlesham, Bosham, Fishbourne, Bury, Adldingbourne, Rose Green is extremely worrying. It leads to a fragmented community – neighbours not knowing neighbours and over-reliance on fossil fuel powered transport.”
Bunting and a banner which were made at the tea party were used on Tuesday evening at the consultation evening.
To help raise funds for the campaign, visit: gofundme.com/f/save-rumboldswhyke-infant-school/donate