Shrinking primary beset by problems asks local authority to close it down

27th March 2009 at 00:00
Crumbling building, no permanent head and pupil numbers are falling, so governors force council's hand

Governors of a small primary near Bristol have become among the first in the country to ask for the school to be closed because they cannot cope with its growing problems.

Just seven years ago, St Katharine's CofE Primary in Felton was described as "rapidly improving" by Ofsted. But now financial and other pressures mean it is set to shut next year.

The governing body says that by taking action, it has secured funds for essential services at the school this year and allowed them to "take control of the situation" before the local authority orders closure.

Plans are being made for pupils to move to a nearby primary, Winford CofE, which will be extended and modernised.

The problems at St Katharine's began in the 1960s when it became apparent the school buildings were not suitable. It is situated opposite Bristol International Airport on the edge of the city's green belt. The local authority has struggled ever since to find another site.

Pupils numbered 72 at the start of this academic year, but have fallen to 36 since governors wrote to North Somerset Council in November asking for St Katharine's to be shut.

The average cost of educating each pupil at the primary is Pounds 4,174, about Pounds 600 higher than similar small schools in the area.

The school has not had a permanent head since April 2008. The post has not been advertised because of the uncertainty.

Attainment among younger pupils at St Katharine's is classed by the council as "inadequate".

Mike Littleton, chair of governors, said his letter requesting closure, which was sent to the council without warning, meant St Katharine's "significant" budget deficit will be paid off and money to run the pre-school until August will be made available.

"The school has been perceived as failing for a number of years because the infrastructure is poor, although educationally we are alright," he said.

"The threat of closure has hung over us since the 1960s. In all that time a new site hasn't been found.

"There was concern from the governors that the council would try to close the school without fixing a date and then it would go into decline.

"By doing this, we are forcing the council's hand. As governors, we have to look to the future. If this goes on, we won't be able to attract teachers to a crumbling school.

"In the long term, this will be better for parents. We hope the majority will be pleased by the splendid facilities promised at Winford. We don't really serve the community we are located in."

By asking for immediate closure, the governors hoped arrangements could be made for St Katharine's to close this summer. But North Somerset's consultation scheme means it has to remain open another year, probably as a one-class school. The number of staff will be reduced.

Jeremy Blatchford, executive member for children and young people's services for North Somerset, said the council had tried to help. "We've spent years trying to find another site for the school but it is in the airport's flight path and it's proved difficult," he said. "We were serious about trying to make a go of this school and did everything humanly possible."

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