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Going, going (almost certainly) gone, village school with falling numbers

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Numbers attending a village primary school have dropped considerably since news of a threatened closure was announced making it increasingly likely the axe will fall.

On January 31, 2023, there were 44 pupils on roll at Great Gidding CofE primary school in Cambridgeshire, but that number has dramatically reduced.

A report to the county council children and young people’s committee on April 25 which will make the final decision, says that after January, 14 pupils applied for, and 9 took up places elsewhere.

“In addition to this, 10 Year 6 children will leave the school at the end of the current academic year to transfer to secondary phase,” says the report.

“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.

Cambridgeshire County Council’s Children and Young People’s Committee is being asked at its meeting on April 25 to approve the closure of Great Gidding school at the end of August

“Consequently, at the time of the March 8 committee meeting there was expected to be a maximum of 20 pupils on roll in September 2023.

“This would have necessitated the move to a 2-class structure and the associated onerous demands upon a headteacher who would, by necessity, also need to teach full-time.”

The report adds: “Numbers have dropped further since then. Officers and the Diocese of Ely have been clear that they could not support that structural solution and would have significant concerns about the impact on educational outcomes for all children.

“Numbers on roll have continued to fall such that there are only expected to be a maximum of 17 pupils on roll at the start of the summer term in April 2023, of which 10 are Yr 6 pupils.”

Councillors are due to make the final decision on the future of the school which effectively means being asked to approve closure at the end of August 2023.

“Education officers are recommending closure because of the educational and financial implications of falling pupil numbers – forecast to be a maximum of 17 by the start of the summer term,” said a council spokesperson.

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.

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

“Officers will inform the committee that such a low number of pupils is likely to harm the school’s future capacity to provide acceptable standards of education.

“As a church school the recommendation is also being made following close liaison and consultation with the Diocese of Ely.”

The spokesperson said the recommendation to close the school has been reached “after a wide-ranging consultation involving staff, children, parents and governors and trades unions, the Roman Catholic Diocese of East Anglia and the Secretary of State for Education”.

Additional consultees have included the local MP Shailish Vara, local district and county councillors, neighbouring local authorities, and nearby schools.

The MP said: “The government has made clear that the presumption for rural primary schools is that they should stay open.

“I am not persuaded by the county council’s argument for closure, which follows a change of administration after the last local elections.

“The school is at the heart of the village and surrounding area. It has provided education to children since the mid-19th century, and its closure will have a massive impact for both children and the wider community.

“Even at this late stage, I would urge the council to keep the school open.”

If the school does close at the end of August, spaces are available at Sawtry infant and junior schools for Great Gidding pupils, along with spaces in a number of other local Church schools for those seeking a school with religious character.

“In the longer term, a new all-through primary school is also planned for Sawtry, due to open in September 2024,” said the council spokesperson.

In the event of a decision to close the school, the county council is expected to provide families of displaced children with assistance towards the cost of transport (where they do not have a statutory entitlement to it) and uniforms at their new school.

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