Fight to save Whitton Primary School hots up

Whitton Primary School pupils dress up for World Book Day.

Whitton Primary School pupils dress up for World Book Day.

First published in News
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A MEETING was held on March 10 in Whitton community hall to discuss the proposed closure of Whitton (Aided) Primary school by Powys County Council for the second time. The school was threatened with closure just over a year ago and was given a reprieve after the Dame Anna Child's charitable trust offered Powys County Council £40,000 for the next three years to bring the cost of educating each pupil at the school down to the average cost of children in Powys. Over 90 people attended the meeting including AM Kirsty Williams, prospective parliamentary candidate and county councillor Chris Davies, Councillor Hywel Lewis, parents, staff, governors, members of the Dame Anna Childs charitable trust and concerned people from in and around the village.

Everyone was welcomed by chairman of the school governors Graham Skipworth. He told everyone what was to go on over the next few months regarding the school. “Powys County Council propose to close the school in December 2014 when we thought the school would be staying open for at least three years." He said that he thought the consultation document was full of inaccuracies, adding that the school was being singled out as part of PCC having to save £20 million. He praised local county councillor Hywel Lewis for fighting hard for the school.

The consultation period started on February 21 and ends on April 11. During this period council officers will consult with the school governors, staff, pupils and parents. “We are looking at a great struggle and have a big fight on our hands.” At the end of the consultation period he said the governors and trust would make it clear to Powys County Council that "They would like to keep the 'Status Quo', would strongly consider 'Federation', would like to be allowed to stay open for a three-year period to build pupil numbers, without the threat of closure hanging over the school and would maintain and improve the school’s education standards, allowing the school to prove to Estyn inspectors and the authority the school’s good provision of learning experiences." Graham urged as many people as possible to write letters, send emails, fill in the form provided at the meeting or telephone Powys county council with their reasons and their objections to the school closure. This all needs to be done as soon as possible. Graham added “Please, without your help we cannot enforce what we have been trying to tell them. We have already had lots of offers of help and let us not forget that our school cannot function without children, so children must come first and money second”.

On the subject of federation, Graham told the meeting that Ian Roberts of Powys County Council had told the cabinet members that the school cannot federate with any other school because it is aided. Kirsty Williams AM said she would find out if it was right that the school could not be federated and if rules could be changed. Kirsty said she had seen examples of federated schools in Powys and they seem to be working very well with shared governing bodies and head teachers. Money is saved and children are able to remain in their locality.

Nigel Morgan school governor asked Kirsty “Where do we go now to complain? We have told PCC the consultation document is wrong in several places with gross inaccuracies. Kirsty told him they needed to go to Education Minister Huw Lewis at the Welsh Assembly.

Several parents spoke. One said her child would not cope in a larger school and she hadn’t found any other schools in the catchments area that provided everything her child needed. A grandparent said “My grandson has just started school here we have moved 3,500 miles to come here and I have never heard a single negative word about the school. Another parent expressed concerns about her child because she had decided to bring him from Beguildy school when it closed because she thought Whitton was safe for at least three years.

The offer of £40,000 from the Dame Anna Childs trust for the next three years has not been accepted or rejected by PCC.

Trustee Susan McLauchlan said about the school and its links to the trust: "This school is unique in the whole of the UK. There is no other school like this, it has been a very successful rural school. The trust's money has been used to supply lots of extras for the school over the years. I find it very upsetting that PCC do not seem to care about the Welsh heritage when there has been an education system in the village since 1724."

At the end of the meeting Graham thanked everyone for coming and said “We have a fight on our hands but with a good community spirit and all the support for the school we have a chance to save it."

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