Village primary school to close

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

MOUNTFIELD and Whatlington Primary School will close for good in August 2014.

East Sussex County Council sealed the fate of the village primary school at a meeting last week, following a consultation with parents, staff and members of the community back in the autumn.

The council cited falling pupil numbers and concerns over standards as the main reasons behind the closure.

Mountfield and Whatlington was placed in special measures following an Ofsted inspection in April last year.

The inspector’s report criticised the quality of teaching, leadership and achievement of pupils at the school.

An interim inspection back in March this year said the school was ‘making reasonable progress’ towards being lifted out of special measures.

But parents were dealt a blow in June when they received a letter informing them that the council was considering the future of the school.

A consultation period was launched in September, with ESCC distributing 800 consultation documents, including 45 to parents and carers at the school, 15 to staff, seven to the Interim Executive Board and 60 spares to be held at the school reception.

Others were sent to ESCC councillors (50 copies), Rother District Councillors (38), parish councils, local pre-schools and nurseries, doctors surgeries and other agencies.

65 people answered the response form, with 56 objecting to the proposed closure.

But some supporters of Mountfield and Whatlington School had previously criticised the council, claiming it failed to advertise the consultation period widely enough.

Cllr Peter Miles, vice chairman of Mountfield Parish Council, said the decision to close the school left ‘a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach’.

He told the Observer: “The building has got some of the best facilities locally for miles around, including a large hall and disabled access, which was installed at huge expense only two-and-a-half years ago.

“If you were to start to build that facility from scratch, it would cost you millions.

“And as far as we know there are no plans for it beyond September.

“It’s not only a fantastic resource, it has a safe drop off area outside the school, it’s on a main road so any traffic coming to it is not using local lanes - it’s got so much going for it.”

Cllr Miles added: “Nobody locally has any idea what the future holds for the buildings, the superb facilities and the land.

“It is inconceivable that they won’t be put to a proper use at some point in the future.

“The situation is all the more muddled because the land was conveyed to the vicar and church wardens of Mountfield and the rector and warden of Whatlington, in trust, for educational use only, so it would seem to be pretty well unsaleable.

“Added to that is the detail that the upper playground is a war memorial dedicated to the fallen of the parish in the Great War.

“All or part of the current building probably belongs to ESCC, and the actual internal facilities surely do.

“That’s a mess.”

An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “We did carry out a thorough analysis of the results of the consultation and the views expressed were taken into account before any decision was made.

“Ultimately, the decision made by the lead member was that the school was not sustainable in the long-term due to concerns relating to standards, pupil numbers and declining popularity.

“The school is currently rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and requires special measures.

“The Diocese of Chichester shared our concerns and agreed we should consult on the closure of the school.

“Other schools in the wider local area are better placed to accommodate any growth in pupil numbers as a result of planned new housing and all of these schools were rated ‘good’ at their previous Ofsted inspections.

“There are only four children at the school and they can be accommodated at other schools in the area.

“We will now publish statutory notices to close the school and there will be a further six weeks of consultation

“As the land and buildings are held in trust by the Diocese of Chichester and the local church, it will be for the trustees to decide what will happen to the site in the future.”

Mountfield and Whatlington will be the first primary school to be shut down by the council since Eridge Primary School the late 1970s.