Where proposals relate to the discontinuance (closure) of rural school, as identified by the Designation of Rural Primary Schools (England) Order, a statement must be made setting out evidence that careful consideration has been given to a number of factors. These factors and that consideration are set out in the statement.
Statement on the Legal Presumption against the Closure of a Rural School
This statement outlines the consideration the local authority has given to the issues that must be addressed when making a proposal to close a rural school as defined by the Designation of Rural Primary Schools (England) Order.
Closure of Manley Village School was initially considered by Cheshire County Council in 2006 when it was determined that the schools should instead federate under a single headship and governing body. This arrangement has created significant challenges to sustaining quality whilst operating within balanced budgets. The governing body have instigated ad hoc measures of teaching joint year groups (‘federation classes’) to address these issues but have now concluded that future budgetary challenges can only be met by moving to a full amalgamation of the two schools. The Local Authority agrees with this financial analysis. The current governing body has been successful in addressing quality issues raised by Ofsted inspection and do not consider there is a need to close both schools and create a new free school to address the remaining challenges. Manley Village School has already used its extended powers to host a pre-school on its site to help secure the future intake of pupils into reception across the two schools.
The two schools proposed for amalgamation are both very small, Manley Village School has a planned admission of 9 pupils into each year group, Alvanley Primary School has a planned admission of 10 pupils into each year group. The schools have been unable to independently staff for the full delivery of the curriculum for all year groups and have consequently had to establish grouping arrangements whereby particular year groups from both schools have been combined on a single site. The governing body believe that amalgamation will enable this to be accomplished in a planned and more comprehensive manner with a more consistent pupil to teacher ratio being maintained across the school. The more efficient use of resources will allow a greater proportion of available resource to be deployed in support of effective curriculum delivery.
It is proposed that amalgamation of the schools will allow for a cohort of 15 pupils to be admitted to each year group; as this exceeds the recent combined intake of pupils into the schools it is anticipated that this small reduction in local primary school capacity will have minimal impact on the pressure for places at neighbouring schools.
The two schools are 1.4 miles apart along a country road. Based upon the current pupil population the schools have calculated the proposed arrangement will lead to a net increase of 12 return journeys (2.8 miles return distance) at either end of the school day. This is without consideration of whether any of these additional journeys would have occurred if the schools were to continue to operate ‘federation’ classes without amalgamating. Whilst any increase in travel to school mileage is undesirable this proposal is designed to enhance the sustainability of education at both school sites and remove the risk of a form of closure that creates greater travel distances for displaced pupils. Coronavirus regulations currently mean the schools cannot mitigate this additional travel by promoting car-sharing arrangements between households or beyond a support bubble.The Governing Body will continue to explore sustainable travel arrangements between the two school sites to mitigate the impact of the proposed split site arrangement.
The amalgamation is seen as a means of sustaining both school sites as resources that can potentially be enjoyed by the communities they serve. It is not envisaged that the proposal will lead to any loss of community amenity.