The chances of a Cambridgeshire school remaining open faded today after the county council agreed to the next stage of the statutory process to close Great Gidding CofE Primary School.
The council’s children and young people’s committee today (March 8) considered feedback received through the first period of public consultation on the viability of the school, where pupil numbers have been falling over recent years.
The committee today had in front of them a report which showed that only 12 of the 47 pupils attending Great Gidding school actually live in the catchment area.
“The majority of pupils currently attending Great Gidding are from outside its catchment area,” said the report to councillors.
A statutory notice and formal proposal to close the school on August 31 now follows.
A council spokesperson said: “In the past 10 years the number of pupils at the school has fallen from 75 to 44 at the end of January this year – many of whom come from outside the school’s mainly rural catchment area.
“The council’s demographic forecasts suggest catchment children numbers are unviable moving forward.”
The spokesperson said if closure does go ahead, parents would be able to apply for an alternative school of their choice and the council would arrange a dedicated admissions round for families of the school to establish their preferences and work to meet these if possible.
Officers suggested at the committee meeting that in the event of closure they would ask for exceptional help for parents with home to school transport to another school and the cost of new uniforms.
The spokesperson said: “A number of alternatives were considered by the county council before the agreement to consult on the future viability of the school was sought in January.
“The council was unable to get agreement from nearby schools to form a federation with Great Gidding, while joining a church multi-academy trust (MAT) was not considered viable by the Diocese of Ely and would not address the low pupil numbers and budget challenges faced by the school.”
The spokesperson said the council and the Diocese of Ely were clear that they would not recommend a reduction in the number of classes from 3 to 2 because of significant concerns about the impact on educational outcomes for the children.
Not a decision taken lightly
Cllr Bryony Goodliffe, chair of the children and young people’s Committee said: “Considering the closure of a school is not something we take lightly.
“The drivers behind this move have always been the falling pupil numbers, the financial viability of the school and the impact on educational outcomes for the children.
“Unfortunately, no solutions have been identified in the consultation process to address these critical issues and provide a sustainable education for the pupils of the school.
“While recognising the level and nature of objection to the proposal, in the absence of any solutions being brought forward, we must move to the next phase of public consultation.”
A statutory proposal to close the school will now be published, followed by a four-week period of representation, during which interested parties can comment on or object to the proposal.
April 25 for final decision
A final decision on whether to close the school will be made by the children and young people’s Committee on 25 April 2023.
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 committee was told: “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.
“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 was told: “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.
“Consequently, on 17 January 2023, the committee gave approval to launch a consultation on the future of the school, which might include closure”
The committee heard 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 buying new uniforms and the cost of 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,” the committee heard.
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
On the issue of it being a faith school, the committee was told 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 non denominational schools.
But the committee was 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.
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.
Longer journeys likely
“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.”
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