Campaigners are looking forward to Chillerton and Rookley Primary School flourishing again now that the axe has been lifted from over it.
The Isle of Wight Council’s cabinet member for children’s education, Councillor Debbie Andre, announced earlier this week that the school will now not be amalgamating with Godshill, as previously reported by Island Echo.
The school had been facing the threat of closure after its running body, the Stenbury Federation, asked the council to amalgamate the 2 schools citing a lack of pupils and rising costs.
A council report, from January, says the school was forecasting a deficit of £93,699 in the last financial year (2021/22) and that in October, only 21 pupils were on roll at the school.
Speaking in March 2021, Chillerton and Rookley headteacher, Mark Snow, told a public meeting the school ‘needed bums on seats’ but if they were not there it was difficult to manage with a budget that was shrinking by the day. He said:
“It is not just about money, it is about the wellbeing of children but if the funding is not there, what can I do?”
At the end of last year, an Isle of Wight Council consultation found 32% of respondents preferred the amalgamation of schools by closing Chillerton but 25% preferred a free school or academy secured as a sponsor.
Now, Cllr Andre has said she asked officers to ensure the school is well supported moving forward and to investigate options for how the council can support smaller primary schools so they can be sustained during periods of falling numbers and financial challenges.
Reacting to the news, Save Our School spokesperson, Keith Herbert, says they are absolutely delighted with the outcome:
“Very few places have such a strong community backing and the school was saved by so many people offering their help from education professionals, Ofsted inspectors, lawyers, union officials, parents and children.
“I would also like to say a special thank you to Cllr Andre, who genuinely listened to our concerns and has given a bright future to rural schools on the Isle of Wight.”
Central Rural councillor, Suzie Ellis, has said she is pleased an announcement has been made on the school’s future and welcomes any initiative that would see high quality and sustainable education delivered locally. Cllr Ellis says she looks forward to hearing Cllr Andre’s detailed proposals for delivery, given the increasing number of surplus primary places across the Island.
Diana Barker, Stenbury Foundation chair of governors, has said now the decision over the immediate future of the Stenbury schools had been made, governors and leaders are planning for September to ensure they have staffing and structures in place for all the children.
Ms Barker has said staff have worked tirelessly over the last couple of years to keep both schools running, dealing with COVID, and they are a credit to their community. She’s also said they will continue to focus on delivering high-quality education for their children.
Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely has praised the hard work and determination of a campaign group also. He’s said:
“I’m really pleased to hear that Chillerton and Rookley Primary School has been saved from closure.
“I was very happy to support the campaign group who fought so hard to save the school and I praise their efforts for continuing the fight when it seemed the odds were against them.
“The future of this school was worth fighting for. Education is worth fighting for. The campaign group did a great job.”
Mr Seely has said he hopes the decision will lead to a brighter future for the school:
“This has been a successful school in the past and, with investment and support, I believe it can continue to serve the community for years to come.
“I hope this decision gives parents the confidence to enrol their children at the school so that it can begin to thrive again.
“I look forward to hearing more about the plans to make the school viable again and I hope we won’t find ourselves in a position where we are debating this school’s future again anytime soon.”
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