Plea to open special school on closing Lewes primary site

Pupils and staff at Pells pictured in March 2016

Pupils and staff at Pells pictured in March 2016

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Plans for a free special school on the site of a primary school due to close next year has been mooted by a Lewes county councillor.

Back in July, East Sussex County Council agreed to publish statutory notices relating to the proposed closure of Pells Church of England Primary School at the end of August 2017.

The authority had also consulted on plans to close Rodmell CoE Primary School too, but decided to give the school a temporary reprieve.

ESCC’s Cabinet made the final decision to close the school earlier this month (Tuesday October 11).

Stuart Gallimore, director of children’s services at the county council,said: “Children in Pells do not make the expected levels of progress when they leave Year 6 that we would expect and leave with the resultant impact on their secondary career.”

He explained that the school had received two straight ‘requires improvement’ ratings from Ofsted, while pupil numbers had dropped from 71 earlier in 2016, down to 53, well below the capacity of 140.

He added: “We are unable to secure a sustainable solution nothing that would turn this into a school of choice and would lift the educational attainment of the children there.”

Nick Bennett (Con, Alfriston, East Hoathly and Hellingly), lead member for education and inclusion, special educational needs and disability, said: “I do not share that regret. I think this is something we needed to do. I think the future of the children who have been going to Pells school is much safer and better secured.”

Ruth O’Keeffe (Ind, Lewes), local member for Pells, replied: “It’s very easy to express regret and close it. It would be much harder to keep it open and for Pells school I believe that would be the best thing to do.”

She continued to make challenge the forecasts used by county council officers and made the case that Lewes town would be left short of the required number of school places in the future.

She added: “I will be looking at whether it might be possible to open a free special school on that site.

“I think the last thing that Lewes will need is another 50 houses when we already will not have enough school places.

“So on behalf of people who would really love to see Pells stay open I’m apologising publicly for having failed.”

Kim Forward (Lab, Hastings - Maze Hill and West St Leonards) added: “I think it’s a very sad time that a school that sits in the heart on an area of such great need like that estate is losing its school and I do think that opportunities have been missed to support the school and support the governors, support the staff, the parents, and the children there.”

Cllr Bennett replied: “Over the last two years we have done everything humanly possible to work with the governors, the diocese, the teaching staff.

“We have put our own staff in there.

“We have spent a great deal of time trying to lift that school and we are now at the point where for all the reasons that have been described again today, we are at a point where I must recommend to cabinet that we do close this school that is not sustainable and has not been delivering sufficiently good education for the children of the county.”

Laurence Keeley (UKIP, Hailsham and Herstmonceux) said they ought to look into Cllr O’Keeffe’s idea for a special school.

Keith Glazier (Con, Rye and Eastern Rother) finished the meeting by saying: “I think we have a duty to maintain educational standards for all, which is what is in our policy document and I put it to the cabinet today that we agree the closure of Pells school from August 31, 2017.”

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