school closure threat

Cantley Sycamore Primary School vice-chair of governors Annie Morgan.
Cantley Sycamore Primary School vice-chair of governors Annie Morgan.
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BATTLE plans are being drawn up after it emerged Doncaster Council has proposed shutting down a school praised by Ofsted only months ago.

Inspectors praised the teaching at Sycamore Primary in Cantley and rated the school as ‘good’ in a report in November.

But now the council is looking to close it in August because of surplus places.

Mayor Peter Davies’ cabinet is due to decide at a meeting next week whether to start on consultation over the move.

But the St Wilfrid’s Road school’s vice chair of governors Annie Morgan, whose two children were educated there, warned closing it would put at risk the futures of some vulnerable and disadvantaged youngsters at the school.

And she warned the Government has predicted a rise in the number of children needing school places.

She said: “Some of the children are vulnerable and if they are taken out of the school they may fail in the future.

“The closure has nothing to do with improving children’s education, and the concern is children may not continue to progress elsewhere. Here, 34 per cent of the pupils are vulnerable or on free school meals. They have responded well to smaller classes.

“It seems strange they are closing this school when there are other schools which have not got good Ofsted reports.

“Some of the local schools around Bessacarr and Cantley are bursting at the seams. They should be looking to put some of those pupils here.

“We are going to set up a parents’ action group. We have a governors’ meeting to discuss it. We have a lot of support from the Parent Teacher Association. They have said they will do anything we want them to do on this, and we know they will fight with us against closure.”

She says the school is not well known and has been difficult to find on the council website. It does not appear when searching under the words ‘Cantley’ or ‘Bessacarr’ - something Mrs Morgan believes has affected the uptake of places.

The first action in the battle to keep the school open will be on Wednesday, when campaigners stage an open day from 10am to 2pm. Invitations have been sent to the mayor, senior councillors, and Doncaster Central MP Rosie Winterton.

Ofsed described Sycamore Primary in November as “a small and friendly school which provides a good education for its pupils”. It added teaching was of “consistently good quality” across the school.

It also described parents’ very positive views on the school, reflected in comments such as, ‘Cantley Sycamore is a lovely place for my child to learn’ and, ‘My children are happy and always want to go to school’.

The report to be put before the councillors next week states: “Cantley Sycamore Primary School currently has a net capacity of 203 and in the January 2011 School Census there were only 83 pupils on roll, which leaves 120 - or 59.11 per cent - surplus places, the highest percentage in Doncaster.

“There are clearly sufficient alternative places for pupils at nearby schools. Customarily, the Government interprets ‘nearby’ as being within a two mile straight line radius from the closing school.

“In the case of this school there are currently some 441 places available at schools within that radius and 367 places available within a one mile radius.”

Doncaster Council’s director of the children and young people’s service, Chris Pratt, said: “We are committed to ensuring school resources are focused on children and high quality education, and not on under-occupied buildings.

“Cantley Sycamore Primary School has the highest percentage of surplus places in the borough and the forthcoming proposal to cabinet is part of an ongoing local authority review into primary school organisation across Doncaster.

“This is a decision for cabinet to consult and we will listen carefully to what parents, staff and governors say before making any final decision.”