Rural schools threatened with closure
Shaun LowthorpeSome of Norfolk's smallest rural schools look set to close their doors for good as education chiefs carry out the final stage of an overhaul to have all of the county's youngsters start high school at the same age.Shaun Lowthorpe
Some of Norfolk's smallest rural schools look set to close their doors for good as education chiefs carry out the final stage of an overhaul to have all of the county's youngsters start high school at the same age.
Pupils at 14 schools may need to find new classrooms after being listed as areas set for merger or closure in 2011 including the 11 youngsters at Church Hill, Church of England Voluntary Controlled First School, at Grimston, near King's Lynn, the smallest in Norfolk.
The news comes amid warnings that rural primary schools are closing at the rate of one a month because of a lack of affordable housing for families.
But last night school chiefs in Norfolk pledged to protect small schools and said the changes were part of a simplified primary and secondary system that has already been introduced in the rest of the county where youngsters start high school at 11.
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County councillors are due to formally discuss proposals on September 16 - the first phase in a year-long consultation with parents and teachers.
But details outlining the possible options were posted on the county council's website yesterday and parents and teachers have until October 23to give their initial views.
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Shelagh Hutson, the county council's cabinet member for children's services, said the latest changes were not directly linked to the housing issues, and council was committed to supporting small schools.
'We do have a policy of not closing small schools, because they are small,' she said. 'This is a re-organisation of clusters, they are all ones where we are changing to a primary and secondary model,' she said. 'One of these schools has only got 11 pupils, think of the costs of that. We are not doing it for cost reasons, but it is taxpayers' money.'
And she denied the cluster changes were closure by stealth.
'It's not closure by another name,' she added. 'They have been running as clusters for some time possibly with shared staff or shared facilities in some way or another.'
Parents across four areas - Grimston, Mundesley and Bacton, South Wooton, and Lingwood - will be consulted on the plans being put forward by Norfolk County Council as part of a year-long review at what to do about primary education.
The move comes as figures obtained by the National Housing Federation, showed that in England, 13 village primaries closed in 2006, 14 in 2007, and 13 in 2008.
In Norfolk, East Winch Primary, which had 10 pupils, closed its doors at the end of last month .
Currently there are six 'federation schools' in the county where schools share their head teachers and governing bodies, while there are 18 schools where schools share their head teachers.
Tim Newton, senior development officer for children's services, said the changes would bring to an end a 10-year schools reorganisation.
'We have been talking to the heads and governing bodies for some months about what the options might be,' he said. 'We are presenting parents and communities with two to three options in each location.
'There will be meetings in September for each of the schools involved.'
Norfolk's smallest schools and pupil numbers
East Winch Primary (now closed) - 10
Church Hill School, Grimston - 11
Brockdish Primary - 16
Hapton Primary - 23
King George VI School, Great Bircham - 23
Marsham Primary - 24
Tivetshall Primary - 24.