Parents anger at school closure plans

PARENTS have reacted angrily to news that one of the smallest primary schools in Suffolk could close within months after Government inspectors found serious weaknesses in teaching and management.

PARENTS have reacted angrily to news that one of the smallest primary schools in Suffolk could close within months after Government inspectors found serious weaknesses in teaching and management.

Closing the school is one of three options being considered to address problems at Gazeley Primary School, near Newmarket, which has 25 pupils.

A consultation exercise was launched yesterday to seek views of parents and others in the village before Suffolk County Council's executive committee makes a decision on June 5.

The school, which is the smallest in west Suffolk and one of the smallest in the county, could be closed by August 31 or December 31 and pupils moved to Moulton two miles away or Barrow four miles away.

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Both schools have spare capacity but would need an extra classroom to absorb Gazeley pupils.

Other options being considered are a federation of neighbouring schools, sharing a common headteacher and governing body, although this would be difficult given the needs of Gazeley school, or leaving things as they are.

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But parents at the school gates said they would fight to save it and believed their children were getting a good education.

Jo Haley, said: "Nobody wants it to close. We would fight them all the way."

Her comments came after education authority managers outlined the difficulties facing the school. They denied closure was the favoured option, although the cost of educating a child at very small schools like Gazeley – where half the pupils come from outside the catchment area – is almost twice the county average.

Western area education manager Tom Scherb said since the Ofsted report, headteacher Lynda Smith had stood down for personal reasons and a teacher had also resigned. New acting headteacher, Anne Evans, had been brought in from Burton End Primary School in Haverhill and was making changes.

Senior education officer Janet Wellings said morale had improved this term but the school's uncertain future was difficult for the three full time teachers and other staff to deal with.

Tony Lewis, county council executive committee member with responsibility for children, said: "When a school goes into serious weaknesses or special measures we have to consider whether it should be closed.

"We have to consider the viability of the school and the ability to deliver a good standard of education to the children within it. We have a big job to do and the clock is ticking.

"Undertaking this kind of consultation is not something we do lightly, but it is important we explore all avenues for ensuring children receive a high standard of education.

"Gazeley is a very small school, with only 25 pupils and falling numbers, and it is only proper we fully examine the options available."

Janet Fish, chairman ofgovernors said: "The governing body agrees it is right to undertake the consultation on the future of the school and hopes everyone will study the content of the document with an open mind before responding and with the best interests of the children at Gazeley school at heart."

The inspection showed the school was at risk of failing to give pupils a satisfactory education and took place in February. A June deadline was set for it to come up with an action plan.

If it avoids closure, it has until next February to convince Ofsted it has turned things around or it could be placed on special measures and given a further year to reverse fortunes.

Ofsted inspectors found teaching was unsatisfactory in the juniors, standards were not high enough in English and the most capable pupils were underachieving in many subjects. While the then headteacher and governors provided "appropriate leadership", there were serious weaknesses in the quality of teaching and management procedures.

The report reported that teaching was sound in reception and infant years and praised levels of attendance, community links, administration processes, accommodation and staff levels.

It added: "Unevenness in the quality of teaching between years and classes has an adverse effect on the way in which pupils acquire knowledge and skills. Teaching is satisfactory in mathematics and science and basic skills are taught appropriately in English, but the National Literacy Strategy has not been implemented to its full effect.

"Assessment information is not used effectively to help teachers plan their work and the management of pupils is inconsistent. These are serious weaknesses that affect the rate of progress, especially the most capable who are underachieving."

The consultation period ends on May 27. If the council's executive committee decides on closure when it meets on June 5 there will be a month-long statutory consultation period before the final decision is taken.

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