Council slammed at public meeting over school plans

Mountfield and Whatlington School'28/06/12
Mountfield and Whatlington School'28/06/12

SUPPORTERS of Mountfield and Whatlington School have criticised the council at a public meeting to discuss the proposed closure of the school.

Around 30 people turned up to the meeting, including representatives from both parish councils, governors, parents and members of staff, amid criticism the meeting had not been advertised properly.

East Sussex County Council is proposing to close Mountfield and Whatlington School by August 31, 2014.

The authority is concerned about falling pupil numbers and the school’s financial viability .

A consultation period is currently underway and will close on October 25.

But some feel the closure is already a foregone conclusion.

Cllr Kathryn Field, who is chairman of the East Sussex County Council’s Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee and sits on the Joint Advisory Committee for Schools, said she would be “very upset” if Mountfield and Whatlington were to close.

Speaking about the atmosphere at the public meeting, Cllr Field said: “The public were very angry and I do not think they believe what they were told.”

She added: “There is a feeling it (the council) is going through the motions.”

Allegations were made at the meeting that some prospective parents had called the county council for advice on school places, only to be told not to send their children to Mountfield and Whatlington because it is closing.

There were also concerns raised about how new housing planned for Robertsbridge would have an impact on local primary school places.

A spokesperson for the county council said: “The details of the public meeting were included in the consultation document.

“To try and reach as wide an audience as possible, this was sent out to recipients including all parents and staff at the school, local early years providers, local schools, GP surgeries, the local library and local councillors.

“The meeting was also advertised on our website.

“As a council we don’t advise parents on which school they should choose, however we do have a duty to keep prospective parents informed about the options available to them.

“If we received an enquiry from a prospective parent about Mountfield and Whatlington School, we would inform them that there was a proposal to close the school, but we would make it clear that this was only a proposal and that no decision has yet been made.

“We work very closely with district and borough councils to ensure we’re aware of all plans for new housing, and this information is used when we compile our forecasts of pupil numbers.

“In this case, the data tells us that even with the planned new housing, there will be sufficient places to meet demand.

“The vast majority of housing planned for the area in question is not in Mountfield and Whatlington but in other parts of the district, where there are local schools better placed to accommodate the forecasted number of pupils.

“The final decision will be taken by the lead member for learning and school effectiveness, Cllr Nick Bennett.

“The council operates a system which was adopted by full council some years ago, where the leader has overall political control of the council but delegates many key decisions to lead members who sit in the cabinet. In making his decision, the lead member will take into account the outcome of the consultation, the views expressed at the public meeting and the responses received to the questionnaires we sent out.”