Parish council challenge over future of threatened West Norfolk village school
Community leaders have challenged education chiefs to work with them to protect and improve the fortunes of a West Norfolk village school which is facing closure.
A formal proposal to merge the Wormegay CE Primary School with its federated institution in Runcton Holme has been submitted to regional education chiefs.
The group which runs both schools, the Diocese of Ely Multi-Academy Trust (DEMAT), says a public consultation, launched in January, showed majority support for its plan.
But parish councillors in Wormegay and neighbouring Tottenhill say they don't accept DEMAT's claim that expected continuing falls in pupil numbers make the merger plan necessary.
In a response released as part of DEMAT's consultation report, the authorities offered to work with the trust to raise pupil numbers.
DEMAT says its models suggest pupil numbers at Wormegay will fall from the current 25 - which itself is barely half of the school's maximum capacity - to just six by 2023.
But the parish councils say they believe they could increase the number of pupils on roll by 80 per cent, to 38, over the same period.
In return, they want a commitment from DEMAT to a renewed effort to raise the school's Ofsted rating to good from the current requires improvement.
The councils wrote: "We take our responsibilities to this community extremely seriously and know that it is best served with a school operating within it.
"We have families that have recently moved into this community for this unique school, and we are confident that the new babies being born now need the opportunity to attend in the future.
"We are confident that we can fill this school. Are you confident that you can deliver good education?"
But DEMAT, whose board has backed the submission of a business case to the Regional Schools Commissioner, maintains its proposals are the best option for the communities affected.
Its chief executive, Adrian Ball, said: “The decision has been made in the best interests of the children, now and in the future.
"It is a much-loved school community and some will be affected in the short term as they settle into new routines.
“The Trust is committed to working with these families and the Local Authority to mitigate the impact and support pupils, parents and staff as best we can.
“Our priority is to provide a sustainable model of high-quality education for the children of these three parishes.”
The consultation report said that, out of 85 public responses, nearly 58 per cent supported the merger plan, with 40 per cent against.
DEMAT is proposing that the merger to form the renamed Holy Cross Primary Academy at Runcton Holme is implemented in time for the start of the new academic year in September.
It says a new uniform will be provided to all pupils free of charge and extra funds would be provided to prepare for any transition.
But the Runcton Holme parish council is also unhappy at the proposed name change.
Although its response did not oppose the merger, the authority said it "strongly" objected to the new name and wanted the village name to be retained in some form.
The consultation process has been dogged by controversy over the timing of the proposal during the coronavirus pandemic, which many critics claimed was unfair.