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Public meeting held over potential closure of one of Cambridgeshire’s oldest and smallest schools





A consultation on the potential closure of a school has been described by one parent as a “death nail” for the Cambridgeshire primary.

Parents at Great Gidding Primary School argue that education authority Cambridgeshire County Council should have asked them about downsizing the school before exploring closure.

Great Gidding Primary School (62237709)
Great Gidding Primary School (62237709)

The consultation was launched by the council amid concerns about the future viability of the school due to declining pupil numbers.

Parents and members of the community packed the school hall in Tuesday (January 31) to voice their frustration.

One dad said he believed a decision had already been made, labelling the consultation a sham.

“How can you stand here and say you have not made a decision, your report and presentation are a manifesto for closing the school, and you are telling me you have not made a decision.

“I do not believe you, you have made a decision, it is a shambles,” he said.

The parent also argued that consulting on the school’s closure had “put the death nail in the school”.

Jonathan Lewis, director for education at the county council, said the number of children at the school was forecast to go below 40 in September, which would mean it would not be able to run three classes and would have to downsize to two.

He said the government formula for deciding the amount of funding the school received was based on pupil numbers.

Mr Lewis said the authority could not put more money into the school.

He did not want to see a school close, but had to consider the impact moving from three to two classes could have on children’s educational outcomes.

One woman highlighted that the school had gone down to two classes in the past when her children attended.

She said: “10 years ago this school went to two classes, at that time we were not having this meeting, we were not having a decision to close.

“Why is this situation now having this decision? Why have you not gone down that route for two classes before considering closing the school.”

Joanne Taylor, an ex-governor at the school, said many of the governors had resigned due to “lack of support” from the local authority.

She said the school had never set a negative budget, and that its pupil numbers had never gone as low as the forecast figures.

Ms Taylor said consulting on the closure had “created a worse situation for the children”.

A public meeting on potential closure of Great Gidding Primary School which was held on January 31 Picture: LDR (62237707)
A public meeting on potential closure of Great Gidding Primary School which was held on January 31 Picture: LDR (62237707)

She said: “This is not about the local authority, this is about the children, they deserve to go to their local rural school.

“Some children do not do well in other schools, they are a round peg trying to fit in a square hole, but they can come here.

“Look at what Great Gidding can offer as a school, that little bit of magic, they come here and they can breathe, they can learn to be brilliant and go on to be great human beings.”

One speaker said they had concerns about the impact the school’s closure could have on the village if it went ahead.

They asked how it would impact the village’s shop and hall, and highlighted that some parents had moved to the village due to there being a school. They said a closure would “kill this community”.

Mr Lewis said the situation previously had been different as the number of children was predicted to come back up. He also said the requirement for schools had changed compared to 10 years ago.

He added the authority had looked at other options, including joining a federation with another school, and joining an academy trust, but said none of these options were deemed possible.

He said the authority was consulting on closure because they “cannot see another option”, but stressed a final decision had not yet been made.

Mr Lewis added that the issue was “not taken lightly” explaining that the last school closure in Cambridgeshire was back in 1992.

One man asked what the parents and community could actually do to try and keep the school open.

Mr Lewis said they could contact the MP about raising the issue of how the school funding formula impacted rural schools.

Cllr Bryony Goodliffe, chair of the children and young people’s committee, encouraged people to continue responding to the consultation survey and sharing their views.

She said: “It is all about knowing what children have received here, what your experiences have been.

“I want to know when I sit there at the committee, I know I have heard everyone’s voice, and can make the right decision for this school and for the county.”

The consultation runs until February 21. A report is then due to be presented to the county council on March 8 for councillors consider whether to publish a statutory notice of formal proposals to close the school.

Timeline

  • January: Education authority Cambridgeshire County Council launched a 30-day consultation on January 23 on the potential closure of Great Gidding Primary School. It is due to close on February 21.
  • March: A report is expected to be presented to the children and young people committee on March 8, which will then consider the results of the consultation and decide whether to publish a statutory notice of a formal proposal to close the school. If that happens the authority will move to stage two of the process, publishing the statutory notice. Later in March it could move to stage three of a four-week representation period, and a staff specific consultation period.
  • April: The county council could then move to stage four, where a final decision on whether to close the school would be made by the committee.
  • August: If the decision is made to close the school, it would then be set to close on August 31, 2023. If the committee decides not to close the school, the county council will have to look at how it will keep the school open.


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