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The battle starts for Shropshire's Schools

Shrewsbury | News | Published:

[gallery] Residents spoke of their shock and disappointment today that nine Shropshire schools face the axe - just three years after campaigns were held to try to stop a number of other closures.

Residents spoke of their shock and disappointment today that nine Shropshire schools face the axe - just three years after campaigns were held to try to stop a number of other closures.

Shropshire Council yesterday revealed the Wakeman School in Shrewsbury is earmarked for closure along with eight primary schools.

Six of these would be straight closures but two others would be lost by the creation of an "all through" school at Rhyn Park in St Martins and a single school on the site of Shawbury Primary School.

Today campaigners were coming to terms with having to fight to save their school - with some having already been through similar fights in 2008.

Parents of pupils at the Wakeman school will have the chance tomorrow to begin drawing up an action plan to save it from closure.

A meeting will be held to give parents information about the proposal to close the school in July 2013 and discuss what can be done to fight the threat.

Headteacher Karen Moore said: "We have very positive supportive comments from parents.

"They are very sad about the situation and we have had pupils in tears. Everyone seems very sorry that the Wakeman has been put in this position.

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"The governors are extremely angry and concerned about the situation and will be supporting parents in the way they respond.

"We are extremely upset. It is a worrying time for parents bringing up children, without having to worry about the future of the school they have specifically chosen."

Wakeman parents have written on the Shropshire Star's website of their dismay at the proposed closure of the school.

Christa Sorrell said: "We have just moved our daughter to Wakeman as she was not coping in a larger secondary school.

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"All of the other schools are enormous compared to Wakeman.

"She is a really bright child but is SEN (special education needs) and there is no way she will cope if she has to go back to a larger school. This closure will ruin her life."

Amanda Hopkinson, a former pupil at the Wakeman, said her son started at the school last September.

"After the first open night we went to with him, it was his and our first choice, and we never went to another school's open evening. Our minds were made up," she said.

"He has come on leaps and bounds and loves it there.

"He has got a great report and brilliant grades. Great teaching, lovely atmosphere, and if our son is happy, then so are we."

And a Wakeman teacher Don Fear has written that the closure move "is little short of a crime".

He says: "It is hardly unexpected, since the ground was laid for it by the systematic sowing of rumours of Wakeman's closure over many years.

"I am a teacher in the school, and I first heard the rumours within weeks of my arrival over five years ago.

"These rumours gained a momentum of their own and became self-fulfilling prophecies.

"Prospective parents heard these rumours and decided not to send their child to a school that may close, and so the numbers plummeted. We have not been helped by our lack of a catchment area, and perhaps we have been too bashful in not proclaiming our many successes and triumphs such as the gaining of Artsmark Gold status. Wakeman is a gem of a school with lovely pupils and is a fantastic place to be both as teacher or pupil.

"This, unfortunately, has been one of Shrewsbury's less well-known facts. A very sad day for the school and the town."

But a report to the Shropshire Council cabinet next Tuesday says the Wakeman school has 269 unfilled places out of 675 (40 per cent) and this is forecast to rise sharply.

The school has "issues" regarding the suitability of its accommodation.

It is close to the river and the basement - which no longer used for teaching - floods at intervals, its sports fields are separated from the school by some distance; there is very limited parking with almost all staff required to park off-site; and it has no space to create any more accommodation.

Closing the school, the report says, would save £437,664 a year in fixed costs.

The report also reveals that at the Shrewsbury area meeting - one of 16 held across the county to discuss the problems facing schools - it was suggested by "most groups" that one school should close.

It adds that the Grange School at Harlescott should give "serious consideration" to a federation which would involve it working closely with other schools and sharing resources, or the creation of an "all through" school such as the one being proposed for Rhyn Park at St Martin's near Oswestry.

The Church of England has voiced its disappointment at the proposed closure of village schools.

Five of the nine are church schools in south Shropshire which is covered by the Diocese of Hereford - Barrow, Hopton Wafers, Onny, Lydbury North and Stiperstones.

"We are very disappointed to see so many schools identified for closure, especially as most are small rural schools which have a particular place in their community," said Philip Sell, director of education for the diocese.

"However, we recognise that things cannot stay as they are, if we are to deal with the extreme financial pressures placed on our education authorities."

He added: "These closures will affect fewer than 200 children and we have space to accommodate them in alternative schools, if parents want a school with a Christian ethos. It is an upheaval but it makes sense."

South Shropshire MP Philip Dunne, whose Ludlow constituency covers the five schools, said: "Shropshire is still suffering from declining school rolls and the council has gone about a much broader consultation than before so the schools themselves have been involved in this process, which is the right way to go about it."

Mr Dunne added: "While I accept that the council has to face up to falling numbers of schoolchildren, I do think we need to recognise that a new national funding formula is expected next year and hope that this will be taken into account."

Shropshire councillor David Lloyd welcomed plans for an all-through school at Rhyn Park in St Martins.

He said: Admittedly current thiinking proposes the relocation of Ifton Primary on the spacious Rhyn Park campus which gives the combined primary and secondary schools the capacity needed for Rhyn Park to remain part of the educational system in the Oswestry area.

Liberal Democrat councillors on Shropshire Council have hinted they may oppose plans for county schools.

Group leader Councillor Nigel Hartin said: "Elected members have now received this report and will be considering its recommendations.

"They turned down the last set of recommendations in 2008. We may turn them down again. The report is a long one and needs reading with care.

"The impact a school makes on its local community needs considering as well as its impact on the child and the education he or she receives.

"Our long held position as Liberal Democrats is that, in principle, schools should not close except for educational reasons. In today's changed financial climate we need to kook at how best money is allocated to all schools.

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