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Volume 493: debated on Thursday 4 June 2009


Thursday 4 June 2009


Children, Schools and Families

Schools (Essex)

The Petition of various pupils and former pupils, parents, residents and others,

Declares that Thomas, Lord Audley School has a special place in the life of the Berechurch Ward community in accordance with the Government's policies towards promoting sustainable communities; further declares the petitioners' opposition to proposals by Essex County Council which would result in the closure of the School and the bussing of pupils to a school some distance away at considerable financial cost to the parents.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls on the Government to stop Essex County Council from closing Thomas, Lord Audley School; to ensure that all necessary support, financial and otherwise, is given to enable the school to improve its performance and to continue to be an integral part of the community in the years ahead; and to implement ‘Option 4’ for secondary school provision in Colchester which would include Thomas, Lord Audley School operating in partnership with Alderman Blaxill School and the Stanway School.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Bob Russell, Official Report, 31 March 2009; Vol. 490, c. 892 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families:

School place planning is the statutory responsibility of the local authority (LA) in this case Essex County Council. LAs have a duty to assess the current and future need for places and where there are high levels of surplus places are expected to take decisive action to reduce these, as maintaining excessive surplus places represents a poor use of resources—resources that can be used more effectively to support schools in raising standards. Where the LA propose to make any changes to local school provision they must publish statutory proposals which are then decided under established local decision making arrangements. The House of Commons and Ministers have no direct role in the process.

The process for making statutory proposals to existing schools (e.g. school closures) involves five statutory stages: Consultation (with all interested parties); Publication (in a local newspaper, at the entrance to the school and in a conspicuous place in the area served by the school); Representations (allowing for comments and objections to be submitted); Decision (normally by the LA); and Implementation (where proposals are approved). There is a right of appeal to the schools adjudicator in specific cases.

Essex County Council has undertaken its responsibility in this area quite correctly through a local consultation process which highlighted the two key facts for parents: the overprovision of places in Colchester and the sustained levels of low achievement at three Colchester schools. The County propose to address these two issues by closing three schools (including Thomas Lord Audley) and creating a single school, which the authority hope to be an Academy subject to the DCSF decision. The County also proposes to expand the five remaining schools, all of which are successful and popular with parents.

If, having considered the responses to its consultation, the County Council decides to proceed with the proposed reorganisation it is required to publish Statutory Notices. Then follows a six week representation period in which comments and objections can be submitted. These must be taken into consideration by the decision maker when deciding whether to approve proposals. More detail on the decision-making arrangements and guidance is available from the School Organisation Website at: schoolorg.

Schools (Isle of Wight)

The Petition of Chale School and Village Community Association and supporters,

Declares that Chale Church of England Primary School must be retained within the village; further declares that this small rural school provides the perfect environment for local children to develop their full potential academically, together with social skills for future life within the community of the village; notes that the closure of the village school would necessitate children as young as four years old travelling up to sixteen miles a day on an additional school bus; further notes that this would preclude parents from having daily interaction with teaching staff and settling their children into school each day, and that this would also impact upon children’s opportunities to partake in after school activities; believes that the financial implications of providing this transport would eradicate any potential savings from the school closure; and further believes that closing the school would rip the heart out of the community, and undermine village life, causing young families to move away in order to live near a primary school.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to direct the Isle of Wight Council to abandon any plans to close Chale School.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Andrew Turner, Official Report, 30 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 1143 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families:

The Government recognises that local schools are often at the heart of rural communities. Closing a rural school can have effects well beyond the schooling of the children and should only be considered as a last resort. That is why we introduced a presumption against closure over 10 years ago.

Local authorities are responsible for planning and managing the pattern of educational provision in their area. However, in deciding upon proposals to close a rural school they must act in accordance with statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families.

The statutory guidance requires local authorities, and the schools adjudicator when appropriate, to have regard to the presumption against closure. The guidance also requires authorities (or schools adjudicator) to take account of several other factors when considering those proposals—including transport availability and cost, alternatives to closure and the impact on the community.

I wrote to all local authorities in January 2008, reminding them of the presumption. In that letter I set out the Government’s policy on the alternatives to closure which is that spare capacity should be reassigned and put to other uses, for example to broaden the services schools offer in line with the likely future pattern of children's services and to meet the needs of local communities. We also want local authorities to promote shared governance arrangements between small primary schools in rural areas as a means of addressing any financial and educational challenges.

I understand the Isle of Wight Council intend to publish the proposal to close Chale Primary School on 10 July. In the six weeks following publication local parents and residents will have the opportunity to put forward their views, which the local authority must take into consideration in coming to a decision. If the Church of England were to object to the proposals the authority would be obliged to refer the case to the schools adjudicator for fresh consideration.

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has no powers to direct the Isle of Wight Council to abandon their plans to close Chale Church of England Primary School.