Shailesh Vara MP is opposing the proposed closure of Great Gidding Church of England Primary School. Among the reasons for his opposition are that the Government issued guidance in January of this year stating that there should be a presumption for rural primary schools to stay open, the importance of maintaining local educational options, and preserving a vital community asset.
Mr Vara has written to Cllr Briony Goodliffe, who has been Chair of the Children and Young People’s Committee at Cambridgeshire County Council since a change of administration at the last local elections. He said that the closure of the school, founded in 1845, would have far-reaching consequences. This would include depriving the local area of a much-valued school, unnecessary disruption to existing pupils’ education, increased transportation costs for parents needing to send their children to other schools, as well as the wider impact on the community.
One of the main reasons put forward by the Council for the closure is a financial concern regarding the cost-per-pupil as attendance numbers have declined. However, Mr Vara has said that one of the reasons for the decline in numbers is the “expectancy effect” of parents taking pupils out of the school because of fear of its closure, and that schools should not be run on business principles, but on local need. Moreover, the Council has failed to take account of the consequence that future housing developments will have on pupil intake.
At a public meeting in Great Gidding Village Hall last month, Mr Vara joined with others in expressing strong local opposition. The closure has also been opposed by County and Huntingdonshire Councillors Simon Bywater, Ian Gardener, Marge Beuttell and Tim Alban.
The proposed closure is currently under review by the County Council, and a decision is expected soon.
Mr Vara said:
“The Government has made clear that the presumption for rural primary schools is that they should stay open. I am not persuaded by the County Council’s argument for closure, which follows a change of administration after the last local elections.
“This school is at the heart of the village and surrounding area. It has provided education to children since the mid-19th century, and its closure will have a massive impact for both children and the wider community. Even at this late stage, I would urge the Council to keep the school open.”
Cllr Simon Bywater commented:
“It is hugely disappointing that this administration is taking the decision to close Great Gidding Primary School, which has been a key part of the wider community for over 100 years. The Council’s consultation process has created a huge amount of local uncertainty, concern and anxiety for the children and their families who feel their voices at best have been ignored.
“This decision, however it is pitched, is based purely on financial forecasts and will have a major impact on a small community like Great Gidding. I really fear for the future of other small schools in Cambridgeshire.”
Cllr Marge Beuttell said:
“It is a great loss for both the village and importantly the children who attend this Primary School. The education that has been provided over the years has given many children the best start in life.”
Cllr Ian Gardener added:
“I strongly oppose the closure of Great Gidding school, as rural schools are such an integral part of our rural community. The Council’s arguments for closure are very weak, and do not in any way justify closing this long-established school.”
Cllr Tim Alban said:
“I am concerned that closing Great Gidding school goes against government guidance that there should be a presumption for primary schools in rural areas to stay open.
“Most of all, though, I am concerned about the implications for the pupils, their parents and the members of staff.”