Battle to save village school fails

By Dave GooderhamTHE county's smallest school has lost its fight against closure after governors admitted keeping it open would risk pupils' education.

By Dave Gooderham

THE county's smallest school has lost its fight against closure after governors admitted keeping it open would risk pupils' education.

Campaigners who mounted a bitter battle to save the 16-pupil Gazeley Primary School, near Newmarket, have now conceded defeat after the governors recommended closure to Suffolk County Council's executive committee.

A consultation will now begin with parents about alternative schools with Gazeley Primary School, which has been part of the village since the 19th Century, set to close in August.

Former pupil Tracie Crascall, who led the fight to keep the school open, said a decision had to be made to end months of uncertainty.

Ms Crascall, now a governor, said: “The issue was extremely personal to me as three generations of my family went to the school and I never wanted it to close.

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“But at the end of the day, as much as it saddens me, we had to take this decision as parents didn't like the instability of the situation.

“The well-being and education of the children had to come first, despite the effect it would have on the community, and all the parents have backed our position.”

Fellow governor, David Pugh, added: “After much agonising, governors have come to a very reluctant decision that the future of Gazeley is not viable any more.

“There was a very strong community intention to keep the school open. It was an intention and desire that the governors initially wholly supported.

“As the year went on, it became clear that the best interests of the children in Gazeley were not being served by keeping the school open.

“We feel if we try to keep the school open, we would be putting the children's education at risk until the school became viable again - if it ever did.”

Gazeley Primary School first faced closure last April after inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education found serious weaknesses, including below-standard teaching, forcing the most capable pupils to underachieve.

That led to months of campaigning by parents who handed in a 160-signature petition to the county council.

The school was granted a stay of execution as a plan to create a federation school - merging Gazeley with neighbouring schools in Barrow and Moulton - was looked at.

But county council bosses said that would “disrupt” other schools and parents now appear to have accepted the governors' decision to close Gazeley Primary School.

Jo Haley, whose three-year-old son Stanley would have joined his older brother, Ben, seven, at the school in September, said: “It is sad to see the village school close and I think a lot of the older people are going to be upset.

“They have been to the school themselves, their children and grandchildren have gone there and they will obviously be upset.

“I think the governors have done all they can and I understand their reasons for closing the school. It gets to a point when you can't keep dragging it out.”

Although the numbers at Gazeley Primary School have risen slightly, governors considered the low numbers - with only four pupils aged between seven and nine expected to be at the school this September - in making their decision.

Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for children and young people, Tony Lewis, said: “I know that the governing body will have thought long and hard about all the options for the school before reaching this viewpoint.

“Our concern throughout this process has been to find a solution that helps us to secure the best possible education, both short-term and long-term, for the children of Gazeley.

“We will of course consider this and the governors' recommendation when the matter is bought to the county council's executive committee for a decision.”

The council's executive committee is likely to consider the recommendation in the next few weeks and a four-week period of consultation will follow if it agrees with the governors' recommendation.

Unless there any objections to the decision, the school closed will be closed and pupils moved in time for the start of the new term in September.

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