North Yorkshire County Council says giving Woodfield Community Primary School more time to improve is out of its hands, and plans to amalgamate it next year with the nearby Grove Road school are likely to go ahead.
The council says amalgamation is necessary because Woodfield has been unable to find an academy willing to take it on since it was rated inadequate by Ofsted in January last year.
Woodfield would be effectively swallowed up by the bigger Grove Road, which would operate as a split-site 280-pupil school.
The Woodfield site would initially operate as a nursery for children from both schools while Grove Road would cater for all children from reception to year six.
A six-week consultation is set to start on December 2 and a final decision taken on April 19.
The Stray Ferret spoke to North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for education and skills, Cllr Patrick Mulligan, about how Woodfield got to this point, and whether the decision to close the school could be changed.
Why isn’t NYCC giving the school more to improve given that its latest Ofsted visit recognised significant progress being made in a short space of time?
It’s out of our hands. Because of the system, when Ofsted finds a school is inadequate, it has to become an academy.
We tried to find a multi-academy trust to take on Woodfield but we couldn’t find anyone. The school was then faced with possible closure.
I don’t think people understand how little influence we have in the academy system. It’s frustrating. We get into a process where we can’t keep a school open even if we wanted to. The system is flawed.
What were the reasons no academy trust wanted to take on Woodfield?
We can make suggestions to the trusts and ask them and come and look at school, but they do their due diligence and see declining numbers, financial difficulties. If it’s too risky they don’t take it on.
Parents have a choice now. If a school is deemed to be inadequate by Ofsted. You get into a downward spiral [and numbers of pupils then decline].
Would NYCC give Woodfield more time to improve if it had the power to?
We would probably give it more time and send our school improvement team to turn it around.
We’ve had a lot of discussions with governors over many years. We’ve been working with them to find a solution. We wanted an academy to take it on but none would.
Sometimes you get beyond that downward spiral.
We do everything we can to support schools. There’s another issue that we don’t receive enough funding to cover these small schools. We have good schools but the system is corroding it.
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Can the decision to close Woodfield be changed?
It is now with the regional schools commissioner.
We had a school in Ryedale. It had 20 kids and was facing closure. We had a public meeting and the community was in uproar. Unlike Woodfield, it did not have an academy order.
Parents formed a community group and they created a business plan to make the school sustainable. It was robust and looked at other things such as housing. It paused the process of closure.
But over the summer, Ofsted came in and gave an inadequate judgement. In the following September, just six children came in, which was depressing. The school closed.
[The parents in Woodfield] could try to do that, but once an academisation order is in, it cannot be reversed.
What are the projected financial savings of this merger?
I don’t have that to hand. It’s not something that has come up in discussions. Grove Road school has done its due diligence and deems it can be successful.
Is it possible that the Woodfield site could eventually be sold for housing?
That’s a very good question, that would be out of our hands. It would be a decision for the regional schools commissioner to take.
One Woodfield parent has concerns about the proposed ‘walking bus’ from one school to the other. It does seem a long and not very safe route.
We have school transport and if it is deemed to be unsafe, we’d provide transportation.
It’s just over half a mile and we’ll look at it very carefully. I can promise we’ll look at it very carefully. We’ll abide by the process.
It all depends on the results of the consultation.