Update: See the notes from the Consultation Meeting on 15th January.
East Sussex County Council have announced plans to merge two schools in Crowborough and create an all-through primary school.
Cllr Nick Bennett, Lead member for Schools and Learning Effectiveness, gave the go-ahead for a consultation to bring together Whitehill Infant School and Herne Junior School from the start of the next school year.
The two schools have been working closely together since a federation was set-up in September 2009. They already share the same governing body, but under the proposals Herne Junior School would close.
In September, Ofsted said Herne Junior School still needed to make improvements to reach the desired standards (read more here). East Sussex is one of the poorest performing counties in the UK for the number of pupils going to primary schools rated good or outstanding. Only 62% of pupils in the county attend a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ school, compared to 80% nationally. The Council’s Policy sets out their ambition to address under-performance of junior schools by supporting infant and junior schools to form a federation or to amalgamate.
The report by the Director of Children’s Services recognised there may be some practical difficulties in bringing together two schools on different sites.
In 2012 East Sussex County Council tried to amalgamate the schools in time for the start of the 2013/14 academic year. Last time 93% of the 107 replies were in favour of merger, but the proposal did not go ahead due to the governing body’s concerns about the loss of money from their combined budget.
Currently both schools receive a lump sum in their budget formula of £147,000 per year. The intention is to phase this money-out over a four year period- so in 2018/19 the combined school would only receive lump sum. The report to the Lead Member’s meeting says the loss of one of the lump sums would be partially offset by the school receiving a split site allowance of £40,000.
With the extended protections now in place, the governing body is backing the merger plans.
Proposed changes to the organisation of schools have to follow a prescribed process set-out in law. After a formal consultation process, the Council proposes to close Herne Junior School on 31st August 2015 and alter the age range at Whitehill Infant School from 4-7 years to 4-11 years on 1st September 2015.
In the last couple of months, Crowborough Primary Federation has been advertising for an Executive Headteacher to oversee both schools.
All pupils attending Whitehill Infant School or Herne Junior School at the time of change would automatically become part of the merged primary school, but pupils would continue to be taught across both the existing Whitehill Infant and Herne Junior school sites.
Cllr Bennett, Lead member for Schools and Learning Effectiveness at ESCC, said:
Along with the governing body, we believe the benefits of a single all-through primary school outweighs the benefits of having a separate infant and junior school.
As well as greater continuity in teaching, pupil care and development that a single teaching staff and headteacher offers, this proposal will enable the school to use its resources more effectively.
The consultation will begin on Wednesday 17th December and run until 11th February. Once live, the online questionnaire can be completed at www.eastsussex.gov.uk/yourcouncil/consultation.
A decision on whether to proceed with the proposal will be made by East Sussex County Council in March 2015 taking into account feedback from the consultation. A final decision on the proposal is likely in June 2015.