Vix Lowthion, Parent, teacher and local councillor shares this latest news. Ed
Rural schools, especially on the Isle of Wight, are at the forefront of school funding cuts, rationalisation and closures. In recent years we have lost schools in Chale and East Cowes and Totland – and now the West Wight community have been told they must see another Primary School closed.
As a parent, teacher and Parish Councillor I have been actively involved in fighting these closures for many months. For our villages and small towns the primary school is at the heart of the community.
Shops, businesses, local services and housing needs all have some dependency on the vibrancy of the village school. Since the closure of the West Wight Middle School in Freshwater in 2010 there has been a marked reduction in the number of young families in the area, as every secondary aged child in the whole of the West Wight now must be bussed out to access high school education.
But now, in 2019, there is the alarming reality that at least one West Wight primary school will be forced to close – and the local communities are fighting this all the way. Firstly, Hampshire Children’s Services designated that the axe would fall on All Saints in Freshwater, moving all their pupils to the much smaller site at St Saviours in Totland.
After long weeks of consultation, the IW Council have now acknowledged that the largest village of Freshwater – with 6,000 residents – must have a primary school. And so the focus has now moved to Yarmouth (population 800), with a proposal to relocate this ‘Good’ school, staff and pupils to the largest school site in Freshwater – plus the addition of guaranteed national funding allocated to develop new accommodation fit for the 21st century.
Could federation be an alternative?
No-one wants to see any of our rural schools forced to close. The communities of Totland, Shalfleet, Yarmouth, Freshwater and Brighstone all rightly place a high value on having a primary school at the heart of the community.
Since February, a collective of West Wight councillors, educationalists and parents have been meeting to look at all other options and alternatives to closure: new Federations between schools, formally reduced school numbers, alternative education use on the sites and outright resistance to closure are all being explored.
Must work together for West Wight solution
Still our Council insist that we cannot keep things as they are – that at least one school will close. Doing nothing is not on option – we need to look at the opportunities to retain the best quality education and also the best sites for educational development.
Emotions are running high, and parents and residents are rightly angry and upset that their local school may have to move or even be closed. But it is vital that we all work together for a whole West Wight solution – or even Islandwide answers – to these forced closures.
We must keep our Good schools. We must grow opportunities for a wide range of activities and funding. And we must have schools placed near where families live – to be sustainable for generations to come.
The closure of a school is delicate balance of being a financial decision, an educational decision, an emotional decision and a planning decision.
With this in mind, and within the national picture of highly stretched education budget and overcrowded classrooms on the mainland, it makes rational sense to have our Island primary schools in the communities where the most families live – which at this point is the largest village of Freshwater.
Time is running out to contribute to the second stage of consultation on the future of West Wight Schools.
Please put forward your views at https://www.iow.gov.uk/news/West-Wight-school-places-consultation4 – deadline is 11th June.
The next consultation meeting will be held at All Saints Primary, Freshwater this Thursday at 6pm.