The Head of Education and Inclusion has agreed to end the statutory decision-making process proposing the discontinuance (closure) of Huxley CE Primary School.
1. Why are we proposing the closure of this school?
At an Extraordinary Meeting on 10 March 2020 the governing body of Huxley Church of England (CE) Primary School (PS) resolved to request the Local Authority “to enter into consultation with a view to school closure”. Whilst the governing body did not want to see the closure of the school governors felt there was no viable alternative as they recognised they would be unable to meet the costs of running the school beyond 31 March 2021. In the event a reduction in staffing commitments will potentially enable the governing body to maintain a balanced budget until the end of the 2020-21 academic year.
With the assistance of the Local Authority the governing body identified they would have needed 32 pupils on roll to generate sufficient income to meet their existing financial commitments. However, this would be unlikely to provide financial sustainability as the age distribution and needs of the additional pupils would almost certainly require the appointment of additional staffing leading to a further increase in budgetary commitment. At the time the school were anticipating there would be a maximum of nine pupils on roll from September 2020, in the event there were four pupils on the school’s roll.
The Local Authority’s forecasting which takes into account local birth-rates, anticipated child yield from new housing and patterns of parental preference suggests there is unlikely to be a significantly large increase in numbers of pupils on roll in the foreseeable future. The Local Authority is consequently in agreement with the governing body’s analysis of the financial situation and is of the view that the funding likely to be available to the governing body is unlikely to sustain the delivery of a broad curriculum offer beyond the current academic year. Any attempt to boost pupil numbers by encouraging the recruitment of pupils from a wider geographic area would run counter to the Local Authority’s statutory Education and Inspections Act 2006 duty to promote sustainable home to school travel arrangements, and would be counter to the Council’s commitment to tackle the climate emergency.
2. What other alternatives to closure have been considered?
In November 2018 the governing body initiated a consultation in conjunction with the governing body of Utkinton St Paul’s CE PS with a view to federating the two schools under shared governance and a continuation of the already established shared headship arrangement. This was viewed as a means of securing the future viability of both schools. In June 2019 it was mutually determined by the governors of Huxley CE PS and the Interim Executive Board of Utkinton St Paul’s CE PS not to proceed with the federation proposal as the shared aspiration to combine headship and governance was proving not to be possible and the proposal was consequently no longer a viable option.
The governing body has worked with local schools and pre-schools to explore opportunities to expand pupil’s social experiences. The governing body entered into a temporary executive headship and Head of School secondment with Tarporley CE PS and is currently sustaining provision through the secondment of a temporary teaching headship from Tarporley CE PS.
Through the school’s Diocesan connection exploration was made of whether a multi academy trust with a suitable religious character would consider admitting Huxley CE PS into the trust, but no positive responses were received. Subsequently the Local Authority has contacted all local academy trusts with an appropriate religious character to advise of the potential opportunity to take Huxley CE PS into the trust, but none has indicated a wish to further explore this possibility.
In the light of the high proportion of pupils with additional needs that have historically attended the school the governing body asked whether the school could perform a specific role in the Local Authority’s SEND strategy. The creation of a new special school would not be consistent with the strategy consulted on and agreed through the recent SEND High Needs Review which determined upon a strategy making use of the skills and knowledge of special school teaching staff to help and support mainstream schools meet the special educational needs and disabilities of children and young people attending their local school.
No other alternative potential routes to sustainability have been identified.
3. When is it proposed to implement the closure?
Delays brought about by Covid-19 mean a decision in favour of closure could not now be ratified before Spring Term 2021, this would lead to the earliest date for implementation being Easter 2021, although the favoured date is likely to be Summer 2021. If a decision is made in favour of closure a final date for implementation will be established as part of the decision-making process. This will take account of the prevailing needs and number of pupils on roll, and the extent to which needs can be met within the resources available to the school.
4. What will happen to pupils displaced by the proposed closure?
In the event the proposal is approved all Cheshire West and Chester pupils on the roll of Huxley CE PS will be found places at their nearest primary school with an available place. Where possible a place will be found for a child at the school of a parent’s preference even if this is not at the nearest school with an available place. Pupils from out-of-authority who wish their child to remain in a Cheshire West school will be offered a place at the school of the parent’s highest preference that has an available place. Where the number of pupils seeking a place exceeds the number of places available then the available places will be allocated in the order of a school’s over-subscription criteria. If a child has an Education Health and Care Plan that names Huxley CE PS that plan will be subject to review and replacement by the local authority that produced the plan.
Any parents of children who have submitted an on-time application for a place in Reception at Huxley CE PS for September 2021 before the outcome of the proposal is known will be invited to make a new application for a place. That application will be treated as though it was on-time provided it is received by 21 February 2021.
5. What will the impact be on neighbouring schools and their admission arrangements?
It is proposed that subject to a separate process of consultation on the school’s admission arrangements the catchment area of Huxley CE PS will be taken into the catchment of Tarporley CE PS, In the event that this consultation on closure indicates that an alternative proposal is preferable, or that revised catchment arrangements need to be implemented in a shorter timescale than consultation permits, then application will be made to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator for immediate implementation of the favoured arrangements.
Currently the availability of places in neighbouring schools exceeds the demand for places; consequently, all pupils from Huxley CE PS catchment are likely to be able to be accommodated without prejudice to the ability of parents in neighbouring catchments to obtain a place at a school of their preference. Any demand for places from parents of pupils who currently attend (or might in the future have attended) Huxley CE PS is likely to enhance the sustainability of those schools. The following neighbouring Cheshire West schools have available places in the following year groups for current academic year:
Duddon St Peters Church of England Primary School (2.8 miles from Huxley) - places available in reception, year one, year two, year three, year four, year five and six.
Total vacant places: 32
Tattenhall Park Primary School (3 miles from Huxley) - places available in reception, year one, year two, year three, year four, year five and six.
Total vacant places: 100
Tarporley Church of England Primary School (3.5 miles from Huxley) - places available in reception, year one, year two, year three, year four, year five.
Total vacant places: 52
Tarvin Church of England Primary School (4.3 miles from Huxley) - places available in reception, year one, year two, year three, year five and six.
Total vacant places: 41
Waverton Church of England Primary School (4.5 miles from Huxley) - places available in year one, year two, year three, and year five.
Total vacant places: 19
Utkinton Church of England Primary School (4.5 miles from Huxley) - places available in reception, year one, year two, year three, year four, year five and six.
Total vacant places: 23
Clutton Church of England Primary School (6.3 miles from Huxley) - places available in reception, year one, year two, year three, year four, year five and six.
Total vacant places: 12
On account of the number of Church of England voluntary controlled primary schools in proximity to Huxley it is not considered that the closure will have a significant impact on denominational provision in the area.
6. How will the loss of the school impact on the community?
Analysis of School Census Data produced by the Department for Education confirms that the school has ceased to be the choice of preference for the majority of local parents. There are currently only four children on roll, not all are from the catchment area.
Despite past attempts to establish sustainable community use of the school buildings (which are held in Trust by the Diocese of Chester) and playing fields (which are owned by the Local Authority) no such use was established during the 2019-20 academic year. The Local Authority is aware of the attempts being made to establish wider use in the current term. In the event of closure the Local Authority will engage with local community interests to explore whether the playing fields could become an asset managed by a local community group. The Chester Diocesan Board of Education will determine the future use of the buildings in accordance with the deeds of trust relating to them.
7. What will the impact be on travel arrangements?
Currently no child attending the school is entitled to travel assistance from this Local Authority for their home to school travel. The majority of children on roll could be found a place at a nearer primary school at a distance that would not make them eligible for travel assistance. However, if such a place is not available then the Local Authority’s eligibility criteria for travel assistance would apply to them.
The majority of pupils on roll can be found a place at a school that requires less travel than the current arrangement. The average home to school travel distance for pupils on roll at the beginning of term was 8.85 miles. Consequently, it is anticipated that the closure of Huxley CE PS will not be detrimental to the sustainability of home-to-school travel arrangements. The number of pupils required to maintain the viability of the school exceeds the number of children of primary school age living locally and exceeds the numbers forecast to do so in the foreseeable future, consequently the future viability of the school would be dependent upon non-sustainable travel arrangements from out-of-catchment area pupils joining the roll of the school.
8. Is there a legal presumption against the closure of rural schools?
Yes, where proposals relate to the discontinuance (closure) of a rural school, as Huxley CE PS is identified by the Designation of Rural Primary Schools (England) Order, evidence must be provided that the Local Authority has given due consideration to a specified set of factors when making a proposal for closure. These issues have been explored and addressed in this consultation information.
9. The consultation process - indicative timeline
8 October 2020
Commencement of the 'pre-publication' phase of consultation.
20 October - 22 October 2020
Local Authority representatives will be available by appointment for an audio/video 'face-to-face' consultation with parents, pupils and other stakeholders.
18 November 2020
Close of the 'pre-publication' phase of consultation.
Director of Education and Inclusion determines whether the proposal should proceed to decision-making either in its current form or in an amended form as a consequence of feedback received to the consultation process.
Publication of notice and commencement of four-week period of public representations.
Decision made by Cabinet Member for Children and Young People
Expiry of period of potential call-in of Cabinet Member decision and Diocesan rights of appeal.
31 March 2021
Earliest date closure could take effect.
31 August 2021
Proposed date closure would take effect.
10. How can I give my views?
Everyone (including your children) are welcome to comment on this proposal in the following ways:
Complete the online survey
Email comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Write to: School Organisation Team, Cheshire West and Chester Council, (Floor 3, Nicholas House), 4 Civic Way, Ellesmere Port, CH65 0BE.
You are also invited to book an online face-to-face meeting with a representative of the Council by emailing (no later than 19 October 2020): email@example.com with a request to have a Microsoft Teams meeting scheduled. Such meetings may be accessed from a computer or by dialling in from a phone, we will send full details to you. Please ensure that you provide us with your phone number so that we can contact you to arrange.
11. What happens next?
This stage of consultation stage closes at midnight on 18 November 2020. A report summarising the responses received during the consultation period will be submitted to the Director of Education and Inclusion who will then decide whether to proceed with the proposal, either in the current form or in an amended form in response to feedback received during consultation. If a decision is made to take forward the proposal then this will be published as a statutory proposal in the form of a public notice. The public notice would be published in a local newspaper. For a period of four weeks following the publication date anyone can comment on the proposal. Having considered all responses to the notice and the pre-publication consultation, the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People will then take a final decision whether to proceed with the proposal.