Parents vow to fight school closure

By James Mortlock and Mark HeathAN angry community met last night to hammer out a campaign strategy to stop education bosses shutting its “vital” school.

By James Mortlock and Mark Heath

AN angry community met last night to hammer out a campaign strategy to stop education bosses shutting its “vital” school.

Villagers from Gazeley, near Newmarket, are outraged the school - one of the smallest in Suffolk - could close within months after Government inspectors found serious weaknesses in teaching and management.

More than 100 people, including parents, councillors and school governors, packed a public meeting in the village hall last night to discuss the issue.

Opponents of the possible closure have already started a petition, which attracted more than 100 signatures within a few days, and plan to mount demonstrations using banners at the school.

Closing the school is one of three options being considered to address problems there.

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Suffolk County Council education bosses have launched a consultation exercise to seek the views of villagers before a final decision is made next month

The school could close in August or December - with pupils either moved to Moulton, which is two miles away, or Barrow, four miles away.

Other options being considered are a federation of neighbouring schools, sharing a common headteacher and governing body, or leaving things as they are.

Parent Jo Haley, one of the leaders of the group fighting to keep the school open, criticised the option to close it and claimed the inspection findings were being used as an excuse to bring education in the village to an end.

“Generations of some families have attended school in Gazeley. It is a vital asset and something we will fight to keep,” she said.

“MP Richard Spring sent us an apology for not being there, but he said is backing us all the way.

“The school governors couldn't really answer any of our main questions, but we hope that when we meet with the local education authority tonight, we will get more information.

“The strong feeling throughout the evening was that nobody wants the school to close. We are hoping we can keep it open - everyone is going to try to do everything they can to keep the school going.”

Mrs Haley, a member of the school's PTA whose six-year-old son Ben is a pupil, accepted there had been problems with education at the school, but said it had improved significantly.

Along with other villagers at the meeting, she feared the closure of the school would be the thin end of the wedge for other amenities in Gazeley.

“If the school goes, then eventually the play school will follow and the pub. It will be like a ghost town,” warned Mrs Haley.

County council bosses have denied closure was the favoured option, although the cost of educating a child at small schools like Gazeley is almost twice the county average.

Tony Lewis, county council executive 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. 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.”