Thursday, 25 May 2017

Anger at threat of school closure

Anger at threat of school closure

ANGER is growing at the threat of closure to Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common.

More than 1,200 people have signed a petition to retain the secondary school in Reades Lane, which is under threat after being rated “inadequate” by the education watchdog and being put into special measures.

Residents, parents and alumni are also lobbying Oxfordshire County Council, the education authority.

A Save Our Edge Facebook group started by former pupils Gemma Levy and Charlie Holloway already has 1,100 members.

About 40 people took part in a demonstration in St Martin’s precinct in Caversham on Sunday. They carried placards reading “Save our Edge” and “Save Chiltern Edge school”. Mrs Levy, of Hardy Close, Caversham, has one son, Jack, 15, at the school and her other son Alex, 10, is due to start in September.

She said: “We are worried. We have put questions to a lot of people but have no answers.

“We have given so many questions and have no answers — it’s frustrating for everybody.

“Everyone I have spoken to is against the closure, whether they are connected to the school or not. They want to keep it open.”

Ms Holloway, whose 12-year-old daughter Jessica Seaman, 12, attends the school, said: “I’ve spoken with residents from Sonning Common and they really don’t want it to close, it’s at the heart of the village.”

The county council has launched a public consultation on the school’s future, which ends on June 16. Then the cabinet member for education will decide whether or not Chiltern Edge should shut. The earliest closure date would be at the end of the school year in July next year.

Clare Bentata, from Caversham, who launched the petition, said: “The closure of Chiltern Edge School would be a devastating loss to all the children, their families and the local community it serves.

“It is a small school with a proud history of looking after its pupils. Demand for school places at both primary and secondary level is high and will only increase further.”

Ofsted inspectors rated the school “inadequate”, the lowest possible rating, in three out of four categories, effectiveness of leadership and management, quality of teaching, learning and assessment and outcomes for pupils.

For the personal development, behaviour and welfare category, the school was given a “requires improvement” rating, the second lowest rating.

Teachers were criticised for their low expectations of their pupils, not checking work closely and not challenging students effectively.

The inspectors stated there was poor progress in the core subjects of maths, English and science and a lack of support for disadvantaged students.

They also reported that some Chiltern Edge pupils used derogatory language towards disabled children.

Governors and the school’s senior leadership were also criticised.

Campaigners say the report is unfair and does not reflect the school they know.

Jackie Outram, from Sonning Common, said she did not believe one bad Ofsted report should cause the school to close.

She said: “Sonning Common needs a secondary school to serve this thriving community and the surrounding villages, not to mention the overspill from the lack of school places for Caversham pupils.

“The local authority should be doing all it can to support the school with better funding and guidance to help the leadership team turn this situation around. Blatantly undermining people’s confidence in the school by suggesting closure serves no purpose and risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I feel for parents and pupils currently at the school and would urge the local authority to stop this madness and start doing something constructive to help Chiltern Edge improve.”

Simon Warner, from Sonning Common, said: “The problems that have been highlighted by Ofsted in its short, unbalanced snapshot visit should be viewed in perspective with the school’s longer-term reputation and history. The views of past and present pupils, staff and governors should be very carefully considered.

“This is a uniquely placed school providing good education for pupils based in South Oxfordshire and certain parts of Berkshire.

“The school needs to be given the chance to address the issues raised in the Ofsted report in the ‘What does the school need to do to improve further’ section.

“Resorting straight to a consultation on closure is unfair and wrong. The best thing for the pupils and the community is to keep this important and valuable school open at all costs; the school needs to have adequate funding to enable it to continue.”

Mr Warner also defended the school’s leadership team.

He said: “The Ofsted report places a lot of emphasis on the shortcomings of the leadership teams and governance.

“I, and many other parents and pupils, place the staff and leadership team at the school in high regard and think they do a very good job under very difficult circumstances, particularly as regards funding, which has been one of the key problems in the school’s recent history, perhaps due to its unique location.

“There is no genuinely viable alternative and the closure of the school would be very serious indeed for the pupils and the community.

“The other schools in the area are too far away to be practical and they clearly don’t have the capacity either. Every conceivable measure should be taken to endeavouring to keep this good and well-thought of school open and serving the community that it has been for so long.”

Jonathan Piggott, from Tokers Green, said: “My children in year 8 are happy and settled at the school. They are engaged to learn and make progress.

“There is never a problem getting them out of the door in the morning on their way to school. We would dearly like the school to be given the support it needs to improve.”

Natasha Hartley-Talkington, from Sonning Common, said the village needed a secondary school.

She said: “With a lot of new homes currently being built and many more to be built in the near future, I cannot believe this is a logical move on the part of any local council/government bodies.

“My worry lies with the prime plot of land which Chiltern Edge sits on and the greed of people rubbing their grubby hands together at the whiff of a school closure.”

John Jenkins, from Sonning Common, said: “I don’t believe you should close a school at the first sign of problems. Finance and support should be the first counter measures.”

Ros Varnes, of Woodlands Road, Sonning Common, said the county council should explore every possible avenue to keep the school open.

She said: “The closure of Chiltern Edge School would have a devastating effect on the local community, particularly the students, parents and staff associated with the school.

“I urge the county council to make every last effort to help secure the school’s future. Not to do so would be a betrayal of the school and wider community.

“In addition, to close the school would be extremely shortsighted, knowing that we can expect significant housebuilding to take place in the area in coming years.

“An excellent opportunity exists here to make the school even better, perhaps to introduce a sixth form, which this area lacks, and to consider bringing back adult education opportunities if a new leadership team can be found with the vision and determination to drive positive change forward.” Nikki Anderson, from Sonning Common, said: “Chiltern Edge School is more than just a school, it is a true community facility.

“Not only does it provide education, but the events and activities it organises are enjoyed and supported by the local community.

“Children from Sonning Common Primary School also have many valuable visits there to participate in everything from sports to the arts and they would be lost without this close and important link. It is the heart of the village and if it were to close it would seriously damage the local community.”

Terry Dawes, from Caversham, said: “Most schools in the area are oversubscribed — where would these children go? My boys have loved Chiltern Edge and have had some fantastic teachers. Please don’t close this school!”

Pam Saker, from Sonning Common, said: “By closing Chiltern Edge the council would be letting down hundreds of children at a time when these children need the support.

“There is a duty of care to provide sound education to the local community. All other schools in this area are already full and closing Chiltern Edge would cause additional problems at the other schools.

“Chiltern Edge is a perfectly good school that needs some leadership and focus.”

Christine Brook, from Kidmore End, said: “This is our local school. Both my children attended the school and did well there. I never had any problems with their attendance as they were both happy there. Also they walked to school everyday — good exercise.”

Henley MP John Howell and Reading East MP Rob Wilson said they both opposed the closure and wanted the school to be turned into an academy.

In a joint statement, they said: “We recognise and support the overwhelming resistance to any potential closure — as evidenced by the swift and substantive momentum gained by the Save Our Edge campaigners and the pressing need to deliver certainty and stability for parents and pupils.

“This case was raised as a matter of urgency with the Secretary of State for Education and work has been undertaken to identify and consult with a potential academy sponsor.

“At this stage, we would not want to speak candidly about any specific details that may compromise a viable option but would seek to reassure parents and pupils that these discussions have been positive and there appears to be scope for progression.”

To respond to the consultation, visit www.oxfordshire.gov.uk

To sign the petition, visit www.change.org/p/oxfordshire-local-authority-save-chiltern-edge-school-from-closure

The campaign group will be
co-ordinating from a new website, www.saveouredge.co.uk

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