Parents anxiously await final decision on proposal to close small school near Worthing

Parents who have been fighting for months to save a small school near Worthing are anxiously awaiting a final decision on proposals to close it next week.

Parents and pupils at Clapham and Patching primary school
Parents and pupils at Clapham and Patching primary school

The future of Clapham and Patching Primary school will be decided at a West Sussex County Council cabinet council meeting on Wednesday.

Nigel Jupp, cabinet member for education and skills, has been asked to support plans to close the school by September 2020 following a six-week consultation.

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However at a scrutiny committee meeting earlier this week, councillors called on the cabinet to drop plans for closure and look into an academisation option with the South Downs Education Trust.

Jo Jones, whose children attend the school, said she was ‘delighted’ by the outcome and that the concerns raised by parents had been listened to.

She said the government’s required threshold for closing a school – essentially that the case for closure should be strong and in the ‘best interests of educational provision in the area’ – had not been met.

“There is not a strong enough case,” she said.

She said the wait for the cabinet meeting next week would be ‘an anxious one’, adding: “It’s going to be the longest week of our lives.”

Jane Foster, the mother of five-year-old Christopher who attends the primary school, was similarly pleased with the scrutiny committee’s decision and said: “It’s lovely to know that we have some great committee members that are of the same view of us.

“However it’s not the relief and excitement that we should feel, we can’t forget that the cabinet have gone against the scrutiny committee before.

“From a parent’s point of view, how can we trust that they will do the right thing this time?”

She said parents had not had a chance to ‘seriously’ consider other school places for their children, and that this was now impossible with schools closed due to the pandemic.

“I don’t think I’ve been this stressed in my life,” she said. “It’s because I know how happy [my son] is at Clapham and Patching, I know he’s thriving, I know it’s working for him.”

Of the cabinet’s decision next week, she said: “If they go against us, we will feel like we’ve failed our children. Like we haven’t fought hard enough for them.”

Some councillors on the scrutiny committee had raised concerns about making the decision on closure during the coronavirus pandemic.

Parent Rosemary Hudson agreed, and said: “As well as this during this time of National Crisis, parents and children – especially those with SEN – need the certainty that they will be going back to a school they know well with staff they know and who know them and their needs – anything less will be seriously detrimental to their mental health and future education.”

Kerry Allen, who has two girls at the school, said she had looked at other potential schools and said there was ‘nothing suitable’ for her children.

As someone who has also lived in the village for 11 years, she said the impact of closure on the community would be ‘huge’.

The closure would also threaten the future of the village hall – which relies on the school for at least 12 per cent of its income.

Another villager, Mary Ashmore, agreed that it would have a ‘dramatic effect’ on the community and said of the school: “It’s part of village life.”

She said the village was the perfect setting for learning, as the children were able to enjoy the ‘idyllic’ woodlands nearby.

“It’s just the sort of upbringing that the Government recommends for children,” she said. “It’s such an early age for them to be ejected from their happy place.”

The Cabinet will meet on April 22 at 10.30am.

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