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Closure of Stoke Ash Primary School puts other small Suffolk schools in the spotlight

Stoke Ash, Suffolk. Stoke Ash Primary School is to close

Stoke Ash, Suffolk. Stoke Ash Primary School is to close

A north Suffolk school which has educated generations of children for 100 years will close in August, Suffolk County Council has confirmed.

The future of Stoke Ash Primary School, close to the A140 near Eye, has been in doubt for a number of months after it was found to be ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in an inspection in September, and was subsequently placed into special measures.

The school, which can accommodate 70 pupils, had as many as 21 children at the start of the academic year, but numbers dropped to just three by January.

But in 2011, the school was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted.

In a meeting on Tuesday, the cabinet at Suffolk County Council decided to approve the closure, which wll come into effect on August 31.

A report from the council read: “Over the last few years Stoke Ash Community Primary School has received targeted and focused support from the local authority in order to improve educational performance across the school.

“Despite this support, the school has not been able to make a sustained improvement in educational outcomes for its pupils.”

According to the report, during the spring it was felt by the acting head teacher and education specialists at the council that the education provided was not meeting the needs of the children “particularly in terms of meeting their social and emotional needs.”

Andrew Stringer, Suffolk County Councillor for the Green Party, who covers

Stoke Ash, said: “It is devastating news and it is very sad that this community school will not make its 100th year.

“I don’t think it is constructive to play blame games, however, the county council support has been ineffective, and that’s quoting Ofsted. I have been seeking assurances that this is an isolated case.

“My huge fear is that we have not learned the lessons of Stoke Ash. This can’t happen again.”

Mr Stringer said this should be a wake up call for other rural schools to adopt formal ties with others, in what is known as a federation, to secure their futures.

He said Stoke Ash would still be open if it had been in a federation.

“If the closure of Stoke Ash means other primary schools take steps to secure their futures, then something will have come out of it. But that is no consolation to the community.”

Mr Stringer said that “tinkering” by successive governments had made the situation for small schools volatile, which he thought could have contributed to the dramatic decline in fortunes at Stoke Ash.

The decision was taken to provide education for those children at neighbouring schools and provide transport. The three remaining pupils, two of whom are still on roll at Stoke Ash Community Primary, are now receiving education at other schools.

The school buildings are owned by the county council, who say they will take responsibility for the security of the site, and that any capital receipt for the site will be used to fund their capital programme.

Odile Wladon, a former governor at the school, and whose four children all attended, said she was “deeply saddened” but not surprised at the news.

“I asked them the question why has a school that was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted in March 2011 with the close support and guidance of county was placed into special measures in September 2013?

“I am devastated. I think every small school should be fearful.

“I think it is appalling and I don’t think the county council did anywhere near enough to keep the school open.

“I do believe that every small school should sit up and take notice.”

A centenary celebration was held at the school on Saturday, featuring displays of pictures dating back to the 1920s.

Event organiser Keith Marlow said an estimated 200 people, including current and past teachers, governors and pupils attended.

“The day went very well,” he said. “A lot of older residents were spotting their mums and dads in the pictures and there were a few tears.

“You could say almost without exception everybody at the event was sad that it was likely the school would close.”

What do you think? How important are small schools and what can be done? Email editorial@dissexpress.co.uk, or post comments below.

 

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