Parish chief hits out at plan to close Great Bircham’s school

The King George VI Primary school in Great Bircham is being closed and teachers and pupils moved to Docking Primary. ANL-141003-140915001
The King George VI Primary school in Great Bircham is being closed and teachers and pupils moved to Docking Primary. ANL-141003-140915001
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The chairman of Great Bircham’s parish council has suggested the village’s primary school had been “earmarked for closure for some time” in a letter to the area’s MP.

Bob Hutchinson wrote to North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham after learning of the plan to close King George VI Primary School, moving pupils and staff over to Docking Primary School after Easter.

County council chiefs have insisted no decision has yet been made about the school’s long-term future and a formal consultation with parents and community leaders will take place over the coming months.

But Mr Hutchinson argues one reason for falling pupil numbers was the decision to reduce the catchment area and offer Hunstanton’s Smithdon High School as the only choice of secondary.

He said: “It is extremely short-sighted of the educational authority not to exploit the benefits of our school over others in the locality.”

The land was originally gifted to the village by King George VI, with the land due to return to the Sandringham Estate if the school closed.

Mr Hutchinson said: “The potential of the site far outweighs the short-term monetary gain of closing the school, especially when the schools in our area are already at capacity with no room to expand or space for parking and outdoor activities.”

He said permission has been granted for 12 new family homes in the village, while another plot provided a prime location for more housing.

“If the education authority were to look at the bigger picture rather than short-term savings it might help,” he said.

Mick Castle, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for education, said: “We have not yet made any long-term arrangements on the future of King George VI Primary School. The only decision that has been made is to move the children at the school to Docking Primary School.”

“We want to make sure those concerned with the final decision are able to make their views heard.”

Mr Castle said he was “anxious” to deliver the best possible education in rural areas, but claimed better uses should be found for existing schools where appropriate.

But Mr Bellingham said the school should have the chance to grow after its numbers fell “quite catastrophically.”

He said: “I’ve always been a supporter of small schools – they are often the bedrock of a village and provide a fantastic education, but are never going to have the advantages of larger schools that can split sets according to age group.

“I have advised the parents to get the support of the parish council and school governors and to launch a campaign, and I will help in any way I can.”