Ebrington Closure 12

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Summary:
The evidence shows that:
1. There are no valid or compelling educational reasons for closing Ebrington School.

2. There is no evidence to support the Governing Body’s assertion that mixed-year classes are detrimental to the attainment and progress of the pupils.

3. There is no evidence to support the assertion of the Governing Body that pupils attending smaller schools, such as Ebrington School, cannot meet the expectations to be ‘secondary ready’ at the end of Year 6.

4. There is no evidence to show that Ebrington School is unable to provide the full and expected range of educational experiences necessary to fulfil the demands of the National Curriculum either now or in the foreseeable future.

5. The single most important ingredient in the success of a school is the effectiveness of the headteacher. Neither the size of the school nor the age range of the classes is shown to have any discernible impact upon the effectiveness of the school in promoting high levels of attainment.

Admissions:

Summary
The evidence submitted to the Review Team indicates that
1. There is no credible evidence that the Governing Body has a valid reason to close Ebrington School because of falling numbers. However, the recent actions of the Headteacher and the Governing Body are having a detrimental effect upon admissions.

2. Prior to opening consultation on the proposal to close Ebrington School, the Governing Body did not undertake a credible admissions feasibility study that considered the short and long term requirements for pupil places in the local area.

3. Failure to implement the admissions policy correctly has led in part to the current oversubscription at St James’ and lower intakes at Ebrington.

4. By empowering the Headteacher to allocate pupils to either school, the Governing Body effected a material change to the character of each school, which did not comply with the conditions of the Instrument of Government in place at the time.

5. The numbers of pupils on roll at Ebrington have declined due to the failure to maintain and promote the school effectively.

Name Change issue:

Summary.
Based on the evidence submitted, including consultant advice received, there are clear indications that:
1. Over a seven month period during 2013 the senior managers unilaterally changed the name of the schools by incremental stages and in contravention of the mandatory statutory guidance that must be followed for such changes. This resulted in material changes to the status of the schools and conflicted with the legal Instrument of Government.

2. The name change proposed by the Governing Body in 2015 was purely one to legitimise the unauthorised name change already made and implemented some two years previously.

3. The procedures followed by the Governing Body to change the Instrument of Government in 2015 contravened the mandatory statutory guidance. As a consequence, such failings made it possible to make material changes to the Instrument of Government without the mandatory consultation and approval required (DfE 2015 and 2016). This has led to the current status of the schools being questioned.

4. The procedures followed by the Governing Body to change the name of the schools in 2015 contravened the mandatory statutory guidance. As a consequence, such failings made it possible to make material changes to the Instrument of Government without the mandatory consultation and approval required (DfE 2015 and 2016). This has led to the current status of the schools being questioned.

Legal matters and federation history- definitions etc.

Summary
The evidence submitted shows that
1. In consulting on its proposal to close Ebrington School, the Governing Body has followed the regulations governing proposals relating to the closure of a site rather than those relating to the closure of a school.

2. When the Federation was established in 1981, undertakings given by the Local Education Authority and Diocese of Gloucester reflected their intention to treat the schools as separate entities. The local authority and the schools have acted consistently with the letter and spirit of these undertakings ever since. All of the Instruments of Government, until the 2015 Instrument of Government, used the term ‘schools’ rather than ‘school’.

3. The children and parents of Ebrington and St James’ therefore have a legitimate expectation that they will be treated as separate schools, and that the procedure and criteria for deciding whether to close Ebrington should be those that would apply as if it were a separate school.

4. In 2012 the current Headteacher regarded the schools as two schools functioning separately. Indeed, the first time the Headteacher and Governing Body sought to characterise the Federation as a single school with two sites coincided with their internal discussions to close Ebrington.

5. The actions taken by the Headteacher and Governing Body to establish Ebrington as a ‘site’ rather than a school, including the changes to the schools’ name and the Instrument of Government, are open to challenge on the grounds that the procedures followed by the Governing Body failed to comply with the mandatory statutory regulations.

6. The advice of the Local Authority would appear to be legally flawed in that it fails to recognise both the legitimate expectations it created through its own undertakings of 1981, and the legitimate expectations created by Governing Bodies, Headteachers and the Local Authority over 35 years through their consistent description of the Federation as a federation of two schools and operation of St. James and Ebrington as two separate schools with separate identities.

7. As a result of actions by the Headteacher and Governing Body over the past three years, the current status of the schools is being questioned.

8. The statutory presumption against the closure of rural schools means that the case for closure must be strong and the proposal is clearly in the best interest of educational provision in the area. The evidence indicates that the Governing Body’s proposal for the closure of Ebrington School does not meet these requirements.

Buildings

Summary
In summary, the extensive body of evidence submitted to the Review Team shows that:
1. The procedures adopted by the Governing Body to identify, monitor and undertake maintenance at the Ebrington School premises are not fit for purpose.

2. There is no evidence that the Governing Body has had an effective, costed and achievable strategic plan over recent years to ensure the appropriate and systematic maintenance and updating of the Ebrington premises.

3. The lack of regular and necessary maintenance at the Ebrington School premises has resulted in the serious deterioration of the fabric of the school to a level judged to present a significant risk to life.

4. The Governing Body under spent its building maintenance budget in each of the last four years.

5. It is unclear how the Governing Body / Diocese could confirm compliance with the mandatory audit process for capital expenditure for St James’ School when there is no evidence to show that in recent years the Thynne and Weymouth Education Trust has been consulted or approved any capital expenditure as required.

6. The withholding of the Condition Survey report and the lack of immediate action based on its findings, could have resulted in very serious consequences.

7. It is unclear if the Governing Body will qualify for a capital expenditure grant for Category 1 work at Ebrington School when it is proposing to close the school within 12 months of the work being carried out.

8. The leadership of the school has failed in its duty of care for the pupils, staff and visitors to the premises.

Finance

Summary
The evidence submitted to the Review Team indicates that
1. No convincing financial justification for the proposed closure can be demonstrated.

2. No financial feasibility study or credible business plan has been produced by the Governing Body to inform its proposal.

3. The Governing body has not secured the funding for its proposal or provided information on how it will raise its 10 per cent contribution of the costs (over £60,000).

4. There is no evidence that the Split Site Allowance is under threat.

5. The Governing Body’s failure to implement its own Admissions Policy correctly has exacerbated the imbalanced parity of funding between the two schools.

6. The serious lack of maintenance of the Ebrington premises cannot be explained by budget shortage, since the maintenance budget remains unspent by approximately 20 per cent over recent years.

7. The allocation of capital funding has disproportionately favoured the St James’ premises over those at Ebrington.

8. The Governing Body has failed to provide a comprehensive analysis of the schools’ financial situation. Some of its calculations lack clarity and supporting evidence, and are open to challenge.

9. The lack of financial information provided for the consultation process has resulted in a deepening suspicion of the Governing Body’s business acumen, openness and motivation.

Traffic - evidence including congestion photographs affecting the area at /near St. James

Summary
The evidence indicates that:
1. The traffic situation in the area around the St James’ premises is already heavily congested and at times dangerous for pedestrians.

2. The local community as a whole has serious concerns about the safety of all users of the road system.

3. The housing development at Badgers Field will exacerbate this permanently when the newly built houses are occupied.

4. The opening of Kiddiwinks Nursery, and the nature of parents’ use of this throughout the day, further aggravates the situation.

5. It is unclear how the Headteacher and Chair of Governors can justify reversing their position on a matter so serious that it affects the very safety of the young children in their care.

6. The Governing Body has yet to provide detailed evidence of how it intends to offset the impact of its proposal on local traffic, children, parents, shop workers and residents.

Closure proposal and Process-

Summary
The evidence submitted shows that:
1. The publication of the Governing Body’s original proposal in September 2015 met with an immediate and widespread reaction of shock, disbelief, dismay and anger. From the start reaction encompassed both the proposal itself and the manner in which it was managed. This continued to be the case over the next five months.

2. Telling the children during the school day that their school was closing before informing the parents was ill-judged and demonstrates insensitivity to the needs of such young children.

3. In relation to the proposal, reaction addressed the absence of any rationale, together with a lack of information enabling a considered response to be made.

4. As Interested Parties gained information by pursuing their own lines of enquiry, all aspects of the proposal were subjected to challenge.

5. In relation to the process through which the proposal was managed, reaction focussed on the Governing Body’s unwillingness to conduct the process in an open, fair and honest manner, and to engage with Interested Parties in a meaningful way.

6. Over time the situation worsened to the point now reached where there is suspicion, mistrust and challenge of the Headteacher and Governing Body by the wider community that feels ignored, disregarded and treated with contempt.

7. The breakdown of relationships at school, Governing Body, resident and local group levels has severely damaged a community that six months ago represented a cohesive, settled and happy environment in which children felt secure and thrived.

Feasibility- over and above earlier issues considered

Summary
The evidence shows that:
1. Regardless of the absence of any planning applications or the necessary detailed feasibility studies to support the Governing Body’s proposal, the proposal is not feasible in relation to all major considerations.

2. The claims made by the Governing Body that the closure proposal would improve the quality of education for pupils are unfounded.

3. The condition of the Ebrington building does not present a case for its closure.

4. Given the existing internal and external shortfall in space available at the St James’ premises, implementation of the proposal would inevitably exacerbate this situation.

5. There is no hard evidence to support the case for closure of Ebrington on financial grounds.

6. There is no comprehensive analysis of the financial situation of the schools, or of any detailed business plan for the proposal.

7. There is no indication of how the Governing Body intends to raise the sum of £60.000 as its contribution towards the development of the St James’ site.

8. Overwhelmingly, the proposal will severely worsen the already difficult and at times dangerous traffic congestion around the school.