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Daniel James responds to Steve Cowley’s letter published on Monday. Ed
The schools reorganisation in the West Wight is being run by Hampshire County Council officers who have a difficult job to do. They cannot justify keeping schools open in towns and villages with very few children left, when other schools just a few miles away in towns like East Cowes are struggling to find space for pupils.
Schools with not enough pupils either have to share senior staff or go into deficit, which is not sustainable. Currently, there are about 90 children per primary school year in the West Wight and falling, spread across five schools.
West Wight “too expensive for families” on local wages
The sad truth is that the West Wight is now too expensive for families earning local wages to rent or buy in the private housing market.
This is partly due to County Council under-investment in the industrial estate at Golden Hill, with the old fort converted to luxury housing, and the loss of the printing works on Afton Road.
Most of the jobs that remain are seasonal and minimum wage, and cannot support a family all year round.
Another cause is small properties which used to be affordable being left empty as investments, or being used for weekly tourist rentals at four times the price.
As a consequence, the ward I represent as a parish councillor in Freshwater North has experienced an 18% decline in population since the previous census, and is having its boundary re-drawn to include Yarmouth to ensure it has sufficient electors.
Only seven Yarmouth pupils at school
Yarmouth has just seven pupils from the town attending its school and 21 pupils from the whole of the PO41 postcode area learning there, an area which stretches for several miles from Norton in Freshwater to the boundary of Shalfleet.
The remainder of the Yarmouth school pupils mostly come from Freshwater.
Proposal is from group not one individual
Our community’s proposal, not just from me but from a group of West Wight parents and school volunteers, was to preserve the excellent ethos of Yarmouth school by relocating it to the All Saints’ site.
This five acre site in central Freshwater has £4m of central government money committed for rebuilding.
The likely alternative
The likely alternative was that first All Saints’ and then Yarmouth would close outright and the rebuilding money lost, as pupils were scattered across three points of the map at Shalfleet, Brighstone and Totland.
This would have presented a daily transportation challenge and a huge waste of time and fuel, as 57% of current West Wight pupils live in the Freshwater/Totland area within walking distance of All Saints’.
The only other school remaining in this part of the West Wight, St. Saviour’s Totland, is already oversubscribed and does not have room to expand.
Best option offered to date
I believe the solution being proposed in the current council consultation is the best offered to date.
There is no realistic prospect of all five primary sites in the West Wight staying open, with Yarmouth school having no headteacher of its own and All Saints’ currently running an annual deficit greater than a headteacher’s salary.
I hope that the few remaining doubters will get behind the relocation plan and join the community for the ribbon cutting ceremony at the brand new school in 2021.