Closed prep set to save village school

13th November 2009 at 00:00
Owners of former private education centre offer land to Dorset first school threatened with closure because it lacks play space

A village school in a battle to survive a major education shake-up could be spared because the owners of a former prep school next door, which closed two years ago, are prepared to give it their land.

Dorset County Council is threatening to close St George's CofE First School in Langton Matravers near Swanage as part of plans to go from a three-tier system with middle schools to a two-tier structure.

It claims the school, which caters for nursery to Year 4, cannot be converted into a primary school because of its lack of play space.

Fortunately, it has been offered a swath of land by the new owners of a neighbouring prep school, The Old Malthouse, which closed in 2007 when pupil numbers dropped.

St George's hopes that the offer of nearly 1,500 square metres of land, on the opposite side of a drystone wall, will convince council leaders the school has what it takes to expand to a full-scale primary.

It plans to knock a hole through the wall that divides the school from the former prep, which is now run as a science education centre by the Cothill Educational Trust.

Anita Brown, headteacher at St George's, said: "The loss of the school would rip the heart out of the community."

Supporters of the 93-pupil school say many village services depend on the school to survive, including the local shop and Scout group.

The area used to be a hotbed of independent schools for pupils with TB and other conditions, because of its fresh country air, but they have all now closed.

Mrs Brown added: "Many fear that the closure of the school could turn Langton Matravers from a thriving community attracting new families into a ghost village peopled predominantly by `second homers'."

Sarah Painter, chair of governors, said: "This means we tick all the right boxes. It is a very popular school, the only oversubscribed one in the area, so we can't understand quite why Dorset County Council wants to override parental preferences and ignore its own stated intention to retain village schools."

Adrian Richardson, principal of the Cothill Educational Trust, which also runs a group of six independent schools, said: "The trust firmly believes in partnership with local primary schools in all the areas we run our schools. Our trustees share my enthusiasm for supporting St George's in whatever way we can."

The land offer comes as hundreds of independent schools are preparing to justify their charitable status, and related tax breaks, to the Charity Commission.

A row erupted earlier this year after two independent schools were told they failed the test of "public benefit" because they did not provide enough means-tested bursaries for poorer children. Many schools who cannot afford to fund bursaries are keen to show how they are helping local communities by lending facilities and educational expertise.

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