Cllr Michael Jones, Leader of the Labour Group on West Sussex County Council, took the Conservative cabinet of West Sussex County Council to task on their plans to close three small schools including Rumboldswhyke School in Chichester.

At the cabinet meeting which took the decision on Wednesday of this week, Cllr Michael Jones said, “I really must underline my continuing deep opposition and that of the West Sussex Labour Group to the closure proposals for Rumboldswhyke. I’m sad it looks like the Conservative cabinet of this council are pushing this through, particularly in these exceptional times.

Cllr Michael Jones, Labour leader at West Sussex County Council
Cllr Michael Jones, Labour leader at West Sussex County Council

These children have already had their education disrupted by the coronavirus crisis. Is it really appropriate for them to have it further disrupted at this crucial time by yet another forced move to unfamiliar schools at a time when they should be catching up on their studies? How [would closure] help educational outcomes all round? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

As the cabinet member for education said himself earlier on, there is a higher proportion of SEN pupils than the average and I don’t like the fact the council is putting them through this at all. It seems to me that this whole thing is being driven by financial reasons and by the national governments pretty disastrous ideological education programme which is allowing schools to be set up where there is more than adequate provision rather than being an honest and responsive approach giving our young people the best education. This in one case is resulting in the closure of a school that has been located there for over a century is an absolute travesty.”

“Whatever the legal arguments, it is quite clear that our communities have been led on a merry dance by this Conservative Council and you can see why when one of those communities finds out that before even going to consultation it would appear that the leader and the cabinet member had already set a date for closure for this August. If you read the emails councillors have been receiving, and there have been many of them, it is also clear to me that there are so many telling reasons why not to close that aren’t in the report that the cabinet have, that I don’t think the cabinet had time to consider them and do them justice here today.”

“The schools have well mapped futures open to them and I think this cabinet has a clear lead from the scrutiny committee to give them a chance, which I think the cabinet should follow. If the cabinet doesn’t follow that lead I hope you all will give very good reasons for setting a different path so at least our communities can see better for now why it is not possible to save this obviously much loved school’s. It’s my view that you will not be acting reasonable if you push this decision through now. [closing the schools] is the wrong decision at the wrong time by far.”

Phil Wilson (on the left)
Phil Wilson (on the left)

Former Labour Candidate for Chichester South, Phil Wilson has commented on the decision, “This is clearly the wrong decision and will be a blow to the whole school and wider community. The pupils and their families need the safety and stability of the school community to continue, especially given current circumstances, but longer term we need to rebalance the injustice of schools funding being redirected to support schemes such as Free Schools, which has led to this purely financially driven decision”.

Councillor Kevin Hughes, Labour Group Leader on Chichester District and City councils said “This decision reflects the tin ear that WSCC has for communities. These schools are vital for the parents whose children attend them and for the pupils themselves. I actually attended Clapham and Patching for a couple of years back in the 1970s, so I can imagine the disruption that this decision will cause there and at Rumboldswhyke. I feel for the tireless campaigners who must now feel totally devastated and exhausted after this decision.”

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