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Parents fighting to save Virginia Water school from closure

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Parents fighting to save Virginia Water school from closure

Published by Local Democracy Reporter Rebecca Curley at 6:00am 15th March 2020.

Mums campaigning to keep a village school open say they will work on their own business plan to support governors to stop it from closing.

A decision to proceed with the closure process of Christ Church C of E Infant School in Virginia Water, despite an overwhelming public response disagreeing with the plan, was made by cllr Julie Iles, Surrey County Council lead member for all-age learning, on Tuesday (10 March).

The council says it will be more cost effective to close the school and merge it with one in Englefield Green.

Governors say they understand the concerns of parents, but support the county’s decision to proceed with closure notices.

The parents say they only found out about the plans on 22 January this year.

They then had a few weeks to respond to a consultation and say their children have only just settled into school life.

SCC wants to close both Christ Church and Englefield Green Infant and Nursery then amalgamate them into a new voluntary aided church school on the Englefield Green site.

It said both schools have “experienced a decline in admissions in recent years” and that forecasts show pupil numbers are not expected to increase in Virginia Water and Englefield Green.

Christ Church C of E Infant School, Virginia Water

Opening a new school, which will be a Diocese of Guildford church school, will be “more cost effective”, it said.

Christ Church currently has 53 pupils and Englefield Green has 121 children on the roll.

Flavia Gray, who has a child in Year One, said: “We are upset because of the speed this has happened. We feel ignored and like they haven’t listened to us.”

Emily Cousins-West’s son only started in September. She chose the school because it could meet his special needs. She is now worried he will not cope very well with having to move.

She wrote to The Queen to seek help as the parents had discovered Queen Victoria donated money to the parish when she was in her 20s.

They were then told to contact the MP Ben Spencer, who they say has not yet responded.

A petition signed by over 300 people showed support to keep the school open.

And results from the feedback shown to cllr Iles on Tuesday show out of the 222 people who responded, 63 per cent do not agree with the proposals.

Of the 34 responses from parents at Christ Church, 68 per cent disagreed with the plans.

And out of 53 people who responded and have other links to the school, 83 per cent disagreed with the proposals.

Only 56 per cent of Englefield Green parents agreed with the merger.

A statement from the governors said they understand the concerns of the parents and were grateful for their support.

It said: “Over the last 12 months the governing body has been exploring the different models of collaboration which would enable the school to continue to be sustainable in light of significant financial pressure on the school budget.

“The governing body recognises the challenge of trying to keep the school open when school funding has been reduced and the demand for primary places has decreased significantly across Surrey and in the local area.”

It said the governors supported Surrey’s decision to proceed with closure notices and that establishing a new, larger school would be financially viable and the best way to protect the school’s future and legacy.

The National Secular Society (NSS), which runs the No More Faith Schools campaign, has also lobbied against the plan and warned that it would disadvantage non-Anglican families.

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: “It’s very disappointing that Surrey County Council appears set to press ahead with this plan despite the fact most respondents to its consultation disagreed with it.

“Replacing a community school with a faith school would further embed religious control of the education system at the expense of children’s religious freedom and social cohesion.”

A spokesman for the Diocese of Guildford said the majority of church schools do not exercise any faith-based criteria in their admissions and offer education to children according to the council’s criteria.

A statement from the diocese said: “Church schools are popular with parents who choose our schools for the high quality academic standards they provide and the wider rounded education they offer which includes an emphasis on the flourishing of all children and young people.”

Statutory notices on the closure of both Christ Church CofE Infant and Englefield Green Infant Schools will now be published at the same time as the Diocese of Guildford publishes a related notice to open a new voluntary aided school.

Cllr Iles said:  “Englefield Green Infant School and Nurseries is currently a community school, but is affiliated with the diocese and almost all pupils move on to the local Church of England St Jude’s Junior School.”

Campaigners have four weeks once the notices appear to give feedback before SCC leader Tim Oliver will make a final decision on May 12.

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