Fletching and Heathfield schools could close leaving parents ‘appalled’

Pupils, parents and staff at Broad Oak Primary School, calling for the school to be saved
Pupils, parents and staff at Broad Oak Primary School, calling for the school to be saved

Rural primary schools in Fletching and near Heathfield could be shut as part of a county council review.

The proposals, which follow an extensive review of places at 62 rural schools across the county, are to close both Broad Oak Community Primary School near Heathfield and Fletching CE Primary School by August 2020.

Broad Oak school ENGSUS00120130310113319

Broad Oak school ENGSUS00120130310113319

East Sussex County Council says the closure of the two schools would reduce the number of surplus places in each area and have a positive impact on other local schools and the provision they can make for all pupils.

A consultation on the proposals would be held before a final decision is made.

‘DOESN’T MAKE SENSE’

Lisa Conti is a parent at Broad Oak, while her eldest son now at Heathfield Community College and her husband also both went to the school.
She said: “It’s a beautiful school, very friendly and focused on the children’s happiness, which for me has always been key. I live five minutes away from the school, walking distance, and I find it hard to believe that a much needed rural school in an area ear-marked for further housing development is going to close. It doesn’t make sense.”

Meeting to hear about proposed closure of Fletching CE Primary School

Meeting to hear about proposed closure of Fletching CE Primary School

She argued most of the nearby primary schools were full and pointed towards the new housing developments in and around Heathfield is being asked to take, with many families moving into the area to be in the community college’s catchment area.

Mrs Conti added: “I know that I, along with most of the school’s parents, past students and staff, hope that this recommendation can be extinguished quickly, so that our brilliant head of school, Claire Kinsella, can continue the good work she started last September in turning our school around.”

Joanna Butler, whose daughter Maya, 7, is at Broad Oak, said they were all ‘shocked and devastated’ by the news.

She described how Maya ‘burst into tears’ as she is worried she will no longer be with her friends, while her son Zak, 4, who is due to start school in September, faces the possibility of being separated from his best friend who also lives in the village.

Fletching Primary School (Photo from Google Maps Street View)

Fletching Primary School (Photo from Google Maps Street View)

She added: “The teachers at Broad Oak are fabulous and have developed a fantastic relationship with the children. Broad Oak School has a wonderful community spirit and is like one big family. We will all be so sad to see it closed.”

County councillor Roy Galley, who represents Fletching, said: “This is an appalling decision by officers and I hope the lead member can be persuaded to stop any consultation.

“I will be working with Fletching residents to try and ensure a change of direction.”

Readers also took to the Express’ Facebook page to make their feelings known.

One parent said: “We definitely aren’t going to let it happen without a massive massive fight.”

Another added: “My youngest two children go to Broad Oak and it is just the loveliest school. They get care and nurturing in a way that is different to larger schools.

“The community element has always been strong (even in difficult times) and there are parents and staff there who attended the school as children themselves.”

SCHOOLS REACT

Inez Morse, executive headteacher of the Woodlands Federation of which Broad Oak School is a part of, said: “Broad Oak Community School has 85 pupils on roll, as four more pupils have recently chosen to join us, with some families who have seen their entire family through the school over a 20 year period.

“In fact, some of our parents, and teachers, attended the school as children and have held the school in high esteem through out that time.

“Our parents report to me that they feel the school delivers a high quality education that meets the needs of their local community and their children. It is well reported that funding for schools is inadequate and this remains a challenge for all schools, and especially those in a rural area. However, despite the financial challenges we face, the school still delivers a full and rich curriculum to our pupils, and enrichment activities for all our families.

“Parents choose to send their children to Broad Oak school, and whilst they may have another school closer, they have made a choice and selected Broad Oak above any other school. I feel that choice should be respected, and the freedom to make that choice maintained.

“Parents have told me that they are appalled at the suggestion made to them by the county council that they should send their children to other schools which have surplus places, when their children are happy, learning and secure at Broad Oak school.

“Our parents are taking action against the proposed consultation and will be presenting strong evidence to the lead member in advance of the meeting on June 24th.”

Meanwhile Jenny Barnard-Langston, chair of governors at Fletching Primary School, said the closure plans would be ‘strongly resisted’ by governors, parents and the village community.

She said: “Fletching Primary School is the beating heart of the village.

“Ofsted Inspectors say of this school:

“As a small school, Fletching focuses upon developing the individual and staff know each child well. The nurturing environment enables staff to find the best in every pupil, creating self-belief and confidence, which in turn impacts upon academic progress and personal development. Nurture groups support vulnerable learners and help them thrive.

“Why then would the council want to close this Good school? Small is beautiful and we intend to keep it that way.”

A meeting to hear how governors were going to fight the proposed closure was held at Fletching’s village hall on Monday night and attended by more than 100 people.

DOING NOTHING WILL NOT ALLEVIATE PROBLEMS’

Stuart Gallimore, the council’s director for children’s services, said: “The council has a statutory duty to ensure that schools are in the right location, are of sufficient size, and are financially able to deliver a high quality education that meets the needs of their local community. We are committed to working in close partnership with schools, the dioceses and key partners to achieve this.

“I understand the enormity of these proposals for pupils and their parents, school staff and communities, but doing nothing will not alleviate the problems these schools face, and could lead to more widespread uncertainty and difficulties for other schools in the local area.”

SURPLUS SPACES

Broad Oak Community Primary School has been undersubscribed for the last five years. The school has 81 pupils against a capacity of 140, with nearly two thirds of pupils at the school living outside the school’s community area. For admissions purposes the Heathfield community area will be extended to incorporate the Broad Oak community area.

Surplus spaces at Fletching CE Primary School are expected to increase from 34 per cent to 40 per cent by 2021. Currently 71 children attend the school, which has a capacity of 105, and nearly two thirds live outside the school’s community area.

The school has been undersubscribed for the last five years. For admissions purposes the Fletching community area will be merged with the St Peter’s Chailey CE Primary School community area.

The Diocese of Chichester, as equal partner, has taken a full role in the review of school places and fully supports the proposals being recommended.

Reviews were also carried out in the Alfriston, Battle, Ringmer, Robertsbridge, rural Crowborough, rural Hailsham, rural Uckfield, Rye, South Chailey and Wadhurst areas. The reviews concluded that no school closures are required in these areas.

On Monday June 24 the county council’s lead member for education and ISEND will be asked to approve a consultation on school organisation changes in two parts of the county.

Are you affected? Email the newsdesk or call 01243 534138.

A petition calling on the council to reject the proposal to consult on the closure of Broad Oak has already been set up. It has been signed by more than 400 people already.

Campaigners have also set up Facebook and Twitter pages.

A website has been launched by campaigners looking to save Fletching’s primary school.