Plans to close a 170-year-old rural school have been called into question after the Department for Education has confirmed that the closure of Chillerton and Rookley Primary School requires a different statutory process to what the Isle of Wight Council is currently pursuing.
Following proposals from the Stenbury Federation to amalgamate Chillerton and Rookley Primary School with Godshill Primary School, parents and consultees were told by the Local Authority:
“Legally there is no such position as an amalgamation of two schools and such an outcome will mean the closure of one of the schools concerned.”
Respondents were referred to the DfE guidance ‘Opening and closing maintained schools 2019′.
After a number of irregularities in the process were pointed out by the Save Our School group, the Local Authority changed direction and insisted it was following ‘Making significant changes (‘prescribed alterations’) to maintained schools: 2018’, which would allow them to fast track the closure.
The Save Our School group has received confirmation from the Department for Education that the procedure to close Chillerton and Rookley Primary Schools should follow the ‘Opening and closing maintained schools’ guidance. The news comes in the same month that the Local Government Ombudsman criticised the Isle of Wight Council for not following procedures set out in law relating to Children’s Services.
A spokesperson for the Save Our School group said
“Firstly, I would like to pay tribute to all the staff at the school who are doing an outstanding job under difficult circumstances.
“At best, the council have misled parents and consultees by referring them to incorrect guidance, at worst they have not followed well established statutory guidelines.
“Clarity from the Department of Education is welcome and will ensure plans to close a beautiful, rural school receive adequate scrutiny. I call on the Isle of Wight Council to recognise this feedback and stop the consultation.
“Although this is a great victory for the Save Our School group the real work is still to be done. We need to understand how the school has spent up to £100,000 on ‘brought in professional services’ and work towards restoring this beautiful school to its former glory.”
An Isle of Wight Council spokesperson said:
“The DfE has been kept regularly informed by the Isle of Wight Council about the informal consultation that is currently taking place.
“They are satisfied that the informal consultation that has recently been completed was undertaken correctly. Clearly if proposals are taken forward formally then the DfE guidance will be followed as it has been with previous consultations.”