Shropshire Star

Parents up in arms over sudden plans to close tiny Shropshire school

Parents at a tiny primary school in rural south Shropshire are up in arms over a "surprise closure announcement".

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The site of Newcastle CE Primary School. Photo: Google Maps

Chiefs at the Blue Hills Federation have proposed to ship all 22 students at Newcastle upon Clun Primary School to another site before launching a consultation on its total closure.

And if the shipping out proposal is approved by Shropshire Council's cabinet later this year, a proposal will then be made to close the school and sell the buildings and land.

Farmer Barry Swancott has two children at the school, Connie and Annie, and co-chaired a meeting of anxious parents on Monday evening.

They fear if a so-called "prescribed alteration" to take children to Clunbury CE Primary School - or St Mary’s CE Primary School, in Bucknell - goes ahead then the closure would be inevitable.

"If we can't save the school when it has 22 pupils, we have absolutely no chance with no children in it," said Mr Swancott.

"With 22 children in the school all the parents have been aware that it is potentially vulnerable. But we were assured as little as two weeks ago that there was no threat to the school."

Mr Swancott added: "Annie is five and she thinks it means her school days are over!

"But Connie who is older is distraught at the school closing. All the other children are distraught. The school really is like a big family and the education is excellent."

Mr Swancott said plans first emerged last week and included a meeting where parents were not allowed to ask questions.

Blue Hills Federation has launched a four-week consultation on the proposal to ship children to Clunbury which ends on March 31.

Its consultation document, published on the Newcastle CE Primary School website, says: "The proposal is to educate all children on another site within the federation.

"This initial proposal is a significant change (or prescribed alteration) to a maintained school and will follow statutory Department for Education regulations for making such changes. In this instance the proposal is to transfer education to a new site.

"The regulations require that such proposals will be subject to a statutory representation or formal consultation period."

It goes on to say that "it is unlikely that it will be possible to maintain viable and sustainable education provision on the Newcastle site into the future, primarily due to the fall in pupil numbers. There is sufficient demographic data on forecast pupil numbers to suggest that this will not change or improve in the foreseeable future.

"As a consequence of this, the governing body has taken the decision to also put forward a second proposal to the Local Authority, Shropshire Council, that a separate consultation should take place on the closure of the school site which will be informed by, and take place after, the outcome of this prescribed alteration consultation has been determined."

All three of the Federation schools are Church of England schools. They have all been judged 'Good' in Ofsted and SIAMS (Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools) inspections.

The Federation's consultation document adds: "This decline in numbers will have a serious impact on the school’s budget position and its ability to continue the quality of education it currently offers. The leadership of the school are also concerned that the decline in numbers would also impact on the quality of social and emotional interaction with peers that can be offered, and that is essential for primary pupils to thrive and flourish."

If the transfer of education provision from the Newcastle site is approved for September 2023, following this consultation, Shropshire Council’s School Transport Policy will provide for free transport to Clunbury CE Primary School or St Mary’s CE Primary School, Bucknell for children currently living in the Newcastle CE Primary School catchment area.

If the closure finally goes ahead the federation plans to sell the school buildings and the land.

The document states: "Subject to the outcome of the consultation on the prescribed alteration, and the separate statutory consultation on the closure of the Newcastle site, then the school buildings and the land would be sold."

Although this proposal has been made by the governing body of The Blue Hills Federation, in consultation with the local authority and Hereford Diocese, the final decision will be made by cabinet of Shropshire Council. The cabinet is scheduled to make a decision on June 7 this year.

Questions to representatives of The Blue Hills Federation have been referred to Shropshire Council which is preparing a statement.

The consultation document and details of how to respond is on the school's website: