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Saturday, 18 August 2018
THE interim headteacher of Chiltern Edge School has pledged to help keep it open.
The secondary school in Sonning Common is under threat of closure by Oxfordshire County Council, the education authority, after being given an “inadequate” rating by Ofsted last month.
It is now in “special measures” while the council carries out a consultation on its future, with a decision to be made in July.
Parents, pupils, campaigners and the two local MPs hope the Reades Lane school can be taken over by an academy.
New headteacher Moira Green spoke publicly for the first time since her appointment was announced last week at a public meeting at the school on Monday.
She told the 200-strong audience that the school could be very attractive to academy sponsors.
Miss Green said: “They are under pressure to grow from the Department of Education. They are not viable unless they have 20 schools or a certain number of pupils. They have an obligation to grow.
“There will be academy chains that want to take this school on. There is a number of chains in Oxfordshire and Reading.
“There are some things that might not make the school very attractive but I am confident that by the time I start next term we will have a set budget.
“I know I can do that and have started work on that. For sponsors who want to make a name for themselves, this is a quick win. With the right leadership and support we can make a quick difference here.”
Miss Green urged parents and the community to make “positive noise” about the school.
“It’s lovely to see so many people here fighting for this school,” she said. “My job is to make sure the school is shored up and we address some of those areas we need to deal with.
“There is a definite need for school places because there are a lot of children still here and a growing population of children in this area.
“Schools are important to communities because we no longer have religion in the same way we did, the church is not the same kind of hub for the community, the pubs are shutting down.
“Schools are the central place for that community cohesion in rural communities like this and the north of Reading where facilities are a long way away.
“I want you to know I am here and I’m going to support the campaign and do everything I can to make sure there is a lot of positive noise around this school.”
Reading East MP Rob Wilson, who was in the audience, praised the Save the Edge campaigners.
He said: “What you’re doing is brilliant and I hope it will continue for a little while longer while things get sorted out.
“We must have the best possible education for all the children, whether they are from Reading or from Oxfordshire.
“There are people out there who want to take over and run the school as an academy. There is a real desire among those I have spoken to to get involved and make it a big success.”
He said he had also spoken to Martin Post, the regional schools commissioner, whose task is to try to find Chiltern Edge an academy partner.
Mr Wilson said: “I think he wants to make sure we can get an academy. He is keen to get the whole idea of closure off the table.”
Henley MP John Howell said he and Mr Wilson were working with county council leader Ian Hudspeth on keeping the school open.
He said: “Both of us are absolutely committed to the future of this school and we want to see it continue.
“When I look around here I see there is huge number of potential building sites and I have always been passionate about ensuring we have the infrastructure, like schools, in place before the houses go up.”
Councillor Tony Jones, lead member for education at Reading Borough Council, said he also wanted the school kept open.
He said: “We have a responsibility to ensure school places and with something like two-thirds of the children coming from Reading, any idea that this would close becomes our responsibility. We want to co-operate with the county council but also hold them to account.
“I have started discussions with our lawyers, depending on how this pans out, about moving on some sort of judicial review on how this process was carried out.
“I am sceptical that one bad Ofsted report should mean there is this consultation. If this school has slipped back on standards then closure is an option but other things can be done before that step.
“Some suggest Oxfordshire County Council, which is responsible for standards and places, could probably find places for the quarter [of children] from Oxfordshire families. Reading has responsibility for the rest.
“We will struggle if that is the position. We may have to fill places in south Reading or in Wokingham.
“If I suggested we might send your children to a place in south Reading you would say, ‘hang on a minute, that’s not fair or reasonable’. We share that view.”
The meeting was chaired by David Robinson, from Caversham, who was a history teacher at the school for more than 30 years until he retired last year.
He appealed for more support, saying: “I want a pledge from all of you here that you will get three people to do a submission to the consultation. It should state the impact the closure would have on the community and the school.
“This school has the capacity to improve as Miss Green and the MPs have said.”
A crowdfunding page has raised £1,350. This will be used to support the campaign and help make the school more attractive to academy sponsors.
Campaigners continue to leaflet streets in the school’s catchment area and a petition calling for the school to remain open now has more than 2,300 signatures. Signatories include former pupil and Olympic rower Sam Townsend.
He said: “I am a former pupil and my family still lives in the area, including my young nephew. It was a very good school when I attended and I am sure it can be again.”
Fellow Olympian Andrew Triggs Hodge, from Checkendon, also signed the petition.
He said: “I have young children who will go to one of these schools. The state system is stretched enough and the future of our children shouldn't be compromised.”
To sign the petition, visit www.change.org/p/oxfordshire-local-authority-save-chiltern-edge-school-from-closure
To respond to the consultation, visit www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/
To donate, visit www.justgiving.
l Campaigners will stage a protest at Emmer Green precinct on Saturday, June 3 from 11am.
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