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Only 25 pc of pupils at under threat Cambridgeshire school live in the village

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EXCLUSIVE – A new report has revealed that only 12 of the 47 pupils attending a Cambridgeshire primary school threatened with closure actually live in the catchment area.

Cambridgeshire County Council children and young people committee will decide whether to move to the next stage of consultation over the fate of Great Gidding school on March 8.

“The majority of pupils currently attending Great Gidding are from outside its catchment area,” says the report to councillors.

The film and tv star Warwick Davis is backing the campaign to save Great Gidding Church of England primary school near Sawtry from threatened closure.

The film and tv star Warwick Davis backed the campaign to save Great Gidding Church of England primary school near Sawtry from threatened closure.

“As at the October 2022 annual pupil census, there were 47 pupils on roll at Great Gidding.

“Only 12 (25.5%) of those pupils lived in the Gt Gidding catchment. The remaining 35 pupils (74.5%) travelled to Great Gidding from other catchments.”

The report adds: “The largest proportion of pupils attended from the Sawtry catchment.”

Great Gidding (Church of England) VC Primary School is in northwest Cambridgeshire. Nearby villages include Little Gidding, Steeple Gidding, Winwick, Hamerton and Luddington in the Brook.

The closest larger village is Sawtry, 4.9 miles away.

“As of 31 January 2023, there were 44 pupils on roll,” says the report.

School 6 Distance from Gt Gidding CofE VC Primary School to alternative schools in the local area

Distance from Gt Gidding CofE VC Primary School to alternative schools in the local area

 

“Since then,14 have applied for and 9 have already taken up places elsewhere. In addition to this, 10 Yr 6 children will leave the school at the end of the current academic year to transfer to secondary phase.

“ Consequently, there is expected to be a maximum of 20 pupils on roll in September 2023. This could be as low as 13 if all the further 7 in-year applications for children to move elsewhere are successful.

In another report the committee will hear: “There have been longstanding concerns regarding the future viability of Great Gidding CE VC Primary School.

“In particular, falling pupil numbers, which were forecast to be below 40 in September 2023, financial issues generated by the low number on roll and the associated impact upon the quality of education provided.

“Officers approached 7 primary schools to explore possibilities for collaboration to support Great Gidding CE VC Primary School, but these approaches did not come to anything.

The majority of pupils currently attending Gt Gidding are from outside its catchment area. As at the October 2022 annual pupil census, there were 47 pupils on roll at Gt Gidding. Only 12 (25.5%) of those pupils lived in the Gt Gidding catchment. The remaining 35 pupils (74.5%) travelled to Gt Gidding from other catchments. The largest proportion of pupils attended from the Sawtry catchment.

The majority of pupils currently attending Gt Gidding are from outside its catchment area. As at the October 2022 annual pupil census, there were 47 pupils on roll at Gt Gidding. Only 12 (25.5%) of those pupils lived in the Gt Gidding catchment. The remaining 35 pupils (74.5%) travelled to Gt Gidding from other catchments. The largest proportion of pupils attended from the Sawtry catchment.

“Consequently, on 17 January 2023, the committee gave approval to launch a consultation on the future of the school, which might include closure”

A second report to the committee, referring to the impact on pupils,  says the closure would directly affect pupils currently in Reception to Year 5 at Great Gidding Primary School.

“It is apparent from the information provided that, were Great Gidding to close, sufficient places in the surrounding area schools could be created to accommodate the estimated 34 (as at January 2023) Reception to Year 5 pupils who would be displaced from the school at the end of the academic year,” says the report.

Year 6 not impacted

“Year 6 pupils currently at Great Gidding would not be directly impacted as they will move on to secondary school in the new academic year.”

The committee will hear that parents and carers were consulted and main concerns featured around the impact on the social relationships, mental health and wellbeing of pupils.

“They have also raised concerns about the cost of purchasing new uniform and transport to their child’s new school if their choice of school does not entitle them to transport assistance under the council’s transport policy,” says the report.

The proposals are that change is made, from the 2023/24 academic year, to incorporate the Great Gidding catchment area into the Sawtry catchment area. This would ensure that should Great Gidding close, children living in the school’s catchment area would have access to other local schools.

Every pupil would be guaranteed the offer of a place at an alternative primary school in their local area. Which school is offered will depend on the home catchment location of each child.

Provisional pupil numbers within 7.5 miles of Gt Gidding (forecast for October 2023) Data source: Pupil forecasts October 2022

Provisional pupil numbers within 7.5 miles of Gt Gidding (forecast for October 2023) Data source: Pupil forecasts October 2022

Three of the children live outside of Cambridgeshire (2 in Peterborough and 1 in Northamptonshire) and liaison is taking place over which school they will attend.

Schools likely to receive displaced children include:

Sawtry Community Infant School

Sawtry Junior Academy

Holme Church of England Primary School

Fourfields Community Primary School

Stilton Church of England Primary School

Yaxley Community Infant School

William de Yaxley Church of England Junior School

Alconbury Church of England Primary School

The county council says it will take responsibility for overseeing the process of closing the school and would work closely with the school to implement closure, including supporting pupils during their final months at Great Gidding and in their transition to a new school.

One idea being considered that the receiving schools would be asked to identify buddies for the incoming pupils to help further ease transition by ensuring there is a familiar face and an introduction to new friendship groups.

‘Exceptional case’ consideration

And councillors would be asked to agree that “an exceptional case for the parents/carers of pupils who were on roll at the school on 17 January 2023 and subsequently displaced to other schools, to receive support with transport to the school nearest to their home address or the nearest faith school to their home address, and with uniform costs”.

Another issue to be discussed is the impact of closure on the wider community.

“ Concern was expressed that, should the school close, amenities may be affected,” says the report.

“ Specifically, concerns were expressed about the impact on the village shop, the village pub and the village hall in respect of lost trade and lost bookings for events such as children’s parties and the potential impact on the local church and church community due to the loss of services attended by school.

Great Gidding (Church of England) VC Primary School is in northwest Cambridgeshire. Nearby villages include Little Gidding, Steeple Gidding, Winwick, Hamerton and Luddington in the Brook. The closest larger village is Sawtry, 4.9 miles away.

Great Gidding (Church of England) VC Primary School is in northwest Cambridgeshire. Nearby villages include Little Gidding, Steeple Gidding, Winwick, Hamerton and Luddington in the Brook.
The closest larger village is Sawtry, 4.9 miles away.

“ If the school were to close there may be a reduction in trade at the local shop and pub, and in bookings at the village hall. The local community would no longer be able to attend church events facilitated for and attended by the school.

“As a result, local amenities may be lost and there may be a resulting impact on people moving into the village/house prices.”

The report also notes the “likely impact” closure will have on the village church  particularly in relation to those individuals and families whose presence in the community is a consequence of being at, or having children in, the school.

“In short, the school closure will reduce the wider impact of the church’s ministry, and the reciprocal resourcing of it,” says the report.

‘Qualifying connection’ to school

“The school come into church every month for a service, and are a welcome and important part of the congregation. Due to their regular attendance, the staff and pupils have made a ‘qualifying connection’ to be married in the church, should they wish.

“The school has 3 services in the year when parents also come. Without the school, participation could be significantly impacted, not least in terms of children, young people, and families.”

“The closure of the school then, like any major village service, will thus further put pressure on the long term sustainability of such essential spiritual provision, for those of faith and for anyone seeking pastoral care and support.”

The report adds: “The economic benefits that a school brings to a community must be considered beneficial side effects to the main duty of a school which is to provide a quality education to its pupils.

“Numbers on roll, budget deficits and academic standards must be the major considerations in any decision on the future of a school and, while a community may be impacted by a decision to close a school; this cannot be an overriding factor.

Cambridgeshire County Council children and young people committee will decide whether to move to the next stage of consultation over the fate of Great Gidding school on March 8.

Cambridgeshire County Council children and young people committee will decide whether to move to the next stage of consultation over the fate of Great Gidding school on March 8.

“If the school closed, the local shop and pub would be unable to rely on passing trade from the school community and their families. This is already the case for 13 weeks of the year during school holidays. I

“It is also likely, that as the majority of pupils attending the school live outside of the catchment area, they would therefore be more likely to use facilities and be part of the community where they lived rather than where they attend school.”

Concern was raised during the consultation that there is potential for reduced bookings at the village hall for events such as children’s parties.

But the council says that since most of the children on roll at Great Gidding do not live in the catchment it is unlikely there would be much use for this at the village hall.

Research conducted by the parish council clerk shows that there have been only 2 children’s parties at the village hall since the end of COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2021.

Faith school issue

On the issue of it being a faith school, the committee will hear there are 19 Church of England primary schools providing a total of 3747 denominational places in Huntingdonshire.

Should Great Gidding close the number of denominational primary schools would reduce to 18 and the total number of places to 3649.

“Whilst there are other denominational schools in the area surrounding Great Gidding, places being available at those schools cannot be guaranteed and transport may not be provided for parental choice placements, in accordance with CCCs transport policy,” says the report.

Some pupils currently in Reception to Year 5 at Gt Gidding might be offered places at nondenominational schools.

But the committee will be reminded that all non-denominational state funded schools in England have to provide collective worship of a ‘broadly Christian character’. Equally, denominational schools are not exclusive to worshipping families.

Aside from Great Gidding, there are four denominational schools within 6 miles of Gt Gidding (as the crow flies).

The report lists the actual number of pupils on roll during the October 2022 school census. This  information shows that there were 1733 pupils on roll across nine schools within 7.5m (as the crow Page 9 of 22 flies) of Great Gidding, with 1849 places available if all schools were operating up to their published admission number.

This results in 116 (6.3%) surplus places across these schools. Pupil numbers and places available within 7.5m of Great Gidding (October 2022)

The council says that from the information currently available, the local authority considers that 10 pupils would be eligible for free home to school transport to their nearest alternative school.

“This is offset by 8 children who currently receive free transport to Great Gidding, and who may no longer be eligible,” says the report.

Costs of moving 

“Hence, the additional cost to the local authority would be small. The local authority acknowledges that pupils living in the Great Gidding catchment and attending the school will face longer journeys to and from an alternative school each day.

“However, for the majority their nearest alternative school is within statutory walking distance. It is envisaged that displaced pupils would continue to be transported to and from school under arrangements made by their parents and carers.

“ Given the majority of pupils would be able to attend a school nearer to their home address it is unlikely there would be an increase in car usage. To the contrary, it would be hoped that car usage would reduce thereby having a positive impact on the environment.”

The committee will be asked if they want to move to stage 2 of the closure proposal which is to publish a statutory notice of formal proposal for closure, information regarding parental preference for alternatives schools will be used to review the impact on travel arrangements.

The report concludes that “the main duty of a school which is to provide a quality education to its pupils.

“Numbers on roll, budget deficits and quality of education must be the considerations in any decision on the future of a school and, while a community may be impacted by a decision to close this cannot be the overriding factor.

“The DfE guidance refers to the fact that some schools may be a focal point for family and community activity, providing extended services for a range of users, and their closure may have wider social consequences.

“However, Great Gidding school does not currently run community events or wrap around care for pupils and so this impact will be limited”.

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