Formal decision to close Lewes primary school due next week

Ruth OKeeffe at a protest earlier this year against the closure of Pells CoE Primary School

Ruth OKeeffe at a protest earlier this year against the closure of Pells CoE Primary School

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A formal decision to shut a Lewes primary school is set to be made by the county council next week.

Back in July, the authority’s cabinet agreed to publish statutory notices relating to the proposed closure of Pells Church of England Primary School at the end of August 2017.

East Sussex County Council had also consulted on plans to close Rodmell CoE Primary School too, but decided to give the school a reprieve.

During the period of representation only one response was received from Ruth O’Keeffe (Ind, Lewes), who represents the area on the county council.

She continued to argue that significant housing developments were planned in Lewes and the other schools in the town were nearly full.

According to the county council Pells is being closed due to concerns about the future sustainability of the school because of its ability to improve standards, declining popularity, and financial viability.

Cllr O’Keeffe said: “The town needs the school places to cope with the combination of in-migration and new developments.

“In order to explore all possible avenues to help the school to secure a ‘Good’ rating I and a local headteacher have looked at a number of options, as you know.

“One of these was to team the school up with a local and highly respected teacher training programme at Sussex University.

“The university, where Jo Tregenza, the course director, was keen to set up a hub at the school and have a number of students on site all the time with tutors, working with the children and providing all sorts of extra resources.

“When I heard the Prime Minister’s recent speech about education and the future I was interested to hear what she had to say about the possibility of small schools making use of new partnerships including a mention of university/school partnerships.

“I feel that the university partnership could be a pilot model for other small schools in need of further development and a real boost to the life chances of pupils like those at the Pells.

“I am very surprised that this option has not been fully explored, but appears to have been rejected very quickly.

“I am not aware of any detailed consideration. I am writing to ask that more time is granted for Pells to explore this partnership and for the university to have a chance to work with the school to create something special.”

According to an officers’ report due to go before cabinet next week, the capacity of the school is 140 pupils, and while the May 2016 census showed 71 on the roll, but at the start of the academic year this had fallen to 53.

Meanwhile births in Lewes have fallen from 201 in 2009/10 to 134 in 2014/15.

The county council’s prefernence data shows that parents on the Landport Estate, who could have had a place at the school, have chosen to send their children to schools elsewhere, generally further away from their home address.

On alternatives for the future of the school, including a partnership with the University of Sussex, officers said: “The proposal was fully evaluated by officers who assessed that it would not address the key challenges that the school faces.

“It had not been costed by the proposer and no evidence was provided as to how it would address the priorities at the school in order to secure and maintain improvements in standards.

“At no stage has the University of Sussex, or any other local university, expressed an interest to the council, formally or otherwise, in partnering with or sponsoring the school.”

They added: “The council believes that children will achieve better outcomes if they attend other schools.”

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