St Mary's Community Nursery School and Overleigh St Mary's Church of England (voluntary controlled) Primary School consultation

Closing date: 9 December 2020

Notice is given by Cheshire West and Chester Council, 4 Civic Way, Ellesmere Port, CH65 0BE in accordance with section 15 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and The School Organisation (Establishment and Discontinuance) (England) Regulations 2013 that the Council intends to discontinue St Mary’s Community Nursery School, Old Wrexham Road, Handbridge, Chester, CH4 7HS, from 01 September 2021; and of a related proposal given in accordance with section 19(1) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and The School Organisation (Prescribed Alterations to Maintained Schools) (England) Regulations 2013 that the Council intends to make a prescribed alteration to increase the age range of Overleigh St Mary’s CE (voluntary controlled) Primary School, Old Wrexham Road, Handbridge, Chester, CH4 7HS, from 1 September 2021.​

Please note:

We welcome views from all sections of the community and would encourage everyone to take part in this consultation. Note that the Council has a responsibility to make sure that its services are available to all, regardless of race, colour, nationality, ethnic origin, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, religion or belief or sexual identity. Comments that are offensive to particular groups or considered inappropriate under the Equality Act 2010 will not be considered or published as part of this consultation.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Local Authority contact details

Contact Name and Address: Carolyn Davis, Senior Manager, Education Infrastructure. (Nicholas House 3), 4 Civic Way, Ellesmere Port, CH65 0BE.​

The proposal and proposed date for implementation

It is proposed to amalgamate the two schools through the discontinuation (closure) of St Mary’s Community Nursery School and the related proposal to increase the age range of Overleigh St Mary’s CE Primary School from 4-11 to 3-11, both proposals to take effect from 1 September 2021.​​

The reason for the proposals

In June 2019 the governing body of St Mary’s Community Nursery School (St Mary’s NS) requested the Council initiate consultation on the possible closure of the school because they were unable to set a balanced budget for the school. This decision was reached with great regret after exhaustive exploration of possible options to sustain a financially viable school. The decision was made in the recognition that staffing cuts already made had not achieved a balanced budget and that further organisational change would be necessary to reduce the rapidly accruing deficit.

The school has been located on the same site as Overleigh St Mary’s CE School (Overleigh StM) since January 2009 and has been the main nursery feeder to the school since its co-location. The Overleigh StM governing body has resolved that in the event that a decision is made to close St Mary’s NS then they be permitted to extend the age range of the school to enable them to make an offer of nursery education to the age range of children currently served by St Mary’s NS.

Having concluded a period of pre-publication consultation carried out during Spring Term 2020 the Council’s Director of Education and Inclusion has determined that these related proposals represent the most effective and efficient means of the Council continuing to fulfil its duty to secure a sufficiency of high quality early years education in the local area.

Pupil numbers and admissions

Overleigh StM currently has a capacity for 420 pupils of statutory school age who are admitted in accordance with the Local Authority’s Admission Arrangements for community and voluntary controlled schools, this arrangement will not change.

St Mary's NS currently has the capacity to admit up to 52 children to each of its morning and afternoon sessions (i.e.104 pupil sessions/day). It is currently undersubscribed and since 01 September 2020 the school has been staffed to provide up to 52 pupil sessions each day. It is proposed that at least a 52 pupil session capacity will be maintained after amalgamation, although the school will have the physical capacity to increase admissions up to 104 pupil sessions each day in response to demand for places.

Children are admitted to St Mary’s NS in line with guidance produced by the Local Authority on admissions to maintained nursery provision. This guidance will still apply after amalgamation. Children attending St Mary’s NS do not currently enjoy any priority for admission to Overleigh StM. This accords with statutory guidance and will not be changed by the proposed amalgamation.

Displacement of pupils

All pupils on the roll of St Mary's NS will automatically transfer to the Overleigh StM roll on 01 September 2021; any child due to be admitted to St Mary's NS on 1 September 2021 will be enrolled into the Overleigh StM maintained nursery class. No child will be displaced by the amalgamation.​

Impact on the community

It is proposed that the greater flexibility enabled by the amalgamation of the school premises will enable a more flexible offer of early years childcare to be made at either end of the day, this will be to the advantage of working parents and the economic health of the local community.​​

Balance of denominational provision

It is proposed that the amalgamated school will retain Overleigh StM’s existing character of being a Church of England voluntary controlled school. This will be reflected in the governance arrangement of the school which will continue to allow Chester Diocese to appoint 25 per cent of the members of the governing body.

In September 2019 77 per cent of parents of children who had attended St Mary’s NS accepted the offer of a place at a primary school with a religious character, this would suggest the acquisition of a religious character for nursery education is unlikely to be a significant issue for the majority of parents. There are other early years providers within a walkable distance of Overleigh StM that do not have a religious affiliation.

Legal presumption against the closure of a maintained nursery school

Where proposals relate to the discontinuance (closure) of a maintained nursery school, a statement must be made setting out

  • ​the local authority’s assessment of the quality and quantity of the alternative provision compared to the alternative provision compared to the school proposed to be discontinued and the proposed arrangements to ensure the expertise and specialism continues to be available; and
  • The accessibility and convenience of replacement provision for local parents.

Cheshire West and Cheshire Council’s Statement on the Legal Presumption against the Closure of a Maintained Nursery School.

This statement outlines the local Council’s assessment of the quality and quantity of the proposed alternative provision compared with that of the school proposed to be discontinued and of the proposed arrangements to ensure the expertise and specialism continues to be available; and the accessibility and convenience of replacement provision for local parents.

In March 2020 Ofsted found St Mary’s Community Nursery School, which had previously enjoyed a positive reputation for the quality of early years education, to ‘require improvement’. The Council believe this judgement is in part a consequence of the ongoing financial pressures faced by the governing body in an attempt to achieve a balanced budget. Since the inspection the governing body have had to make further staffing reductions. Despite these reductions the staffing establishment remains financially unsustainable with the result that the school has an accruing deficit currently forecast to be £274,445 by 31 March 2023. This position may be further compromised if the lump sum currently payable to the school from the Dedicated School Grant as a transitional arrangement is withdrawn in line with the government’s policy to harmonise funding across all early years settings.

The proposal places the governance of both schools within the responsibility of the governing body of Overleigh St Mary’s CE PS; this has been found by Ofsted to be a ‘good’ school, a judgement extended to its early years teaching. Amalgamation will enable the ending of the financially unsustainable employment of separate headteachers. Early Years provision would be combined under the leadership of the existing Overleigh St Mary’s CE Primary School Foundation Stage lead. Amalgamation permits a rationalisation of management, business support and governance functions allowing a greater proportion of available resource to be directly targeted on teaching and learning.

Since September 2020 reduced demand for places has meant the St Mary’s Nursery School governing body has only been required to offer half of the number of places that its physical capacity permits. This arrangement is sufficient to meet the current demand for places and will be increased should future demand for places rise to meet the physical capacity of the premises.

Both schools currently have their own outdoor play areas leading to duplication of resources and a limited range of learning environments, it is proposed that as part of the amalgamation process there is a review of internal and external space with a view to achieving an integrated and enhanced range of learning environments.

This proposal maintains the current arrangement whereby the two schools are co-located on the same site. Whilst eager to make a more flexible and extended offer to working parents the St Mary’s Community Nursery School governing body have felt unable to implement such proposals because of the constraints on their space. Amalgamation of the schools and their proposed physical integration will permit a review of how the totality of accommodation can be used to make a more flexible and extended offer better able to meet the needs of working parents. The Overleigh St Mary’s CE Primary School governing body are committed to providing this extended offer and the Local Authority has agreed to meet the cost of works necessary to create a safe and accessible integrated school.​​

Impact upon travel arrangements

Because the schools are co-located there will be no increase in travel distance for parents and pupils. Increased flexibility around the early years offer may afford parents greater opportunity to synchronise the travel arrangements for nursery and school aged pupils leading to a potential reduction in the number of journeys made.​​

Implementation and any proposed stages for implementation

If approved by the decision-maker without modification of the proposal (and subject to there being no appeal by Chester or Shrewsbury Dioceses to the Schools Adjudicator) the Council wishes to implement the proposal from 1 September 2021.​

The procedure for responses: support; objections and comments

A public notice can be found on the Council's website until 9 December 2020.

A public notice announcing the start of a period of public representations is to be published in the Chester Standard on 12 November 2020.

Within four weeks from the date of publication, any person may send in a response supporting, objecting or commenting on the proposal;

The final date for receipt of representations is midnight 9 December 2020.

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