Case reference: Referral body: Statutory proposal:
STP/000219 Rutland School Organisation Committee To (i) discontinue Leighfield Primary School and Uppingham Church of England Primary School and (ii) establish a new community primary school 23 February 2007
Date of decision:
Determination Under the powers conferred on me by Schedule 6 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, I hereby reject the proposal to (i) discontinue Leighfield Primary School and Uppingham Church of England Primary School and (ii) establish a new community primary school. The referral 1. The Secretary of Rutland School Organisation Committee (“the committee”) wrote to the Office of the School’s Adjudicator on 30 November 2006 referring to a proposal by Rutland County Council, the local authority (“the LA”) to (i) discontinue Leighfield Primary School and Uppingham Church of England Primary School (“the Schools”) and (ii) establish a new community primary school. Jurisdiction 2. In a notice dated 30 August 2006 the LA published a proposal to discontinue the schools from Tuesday 26 August 2008 and establish a new school from Tuesday 26 August 2008. The notice was in the necessary form as required by section 29 and section 28 respectively of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (“the Act”). 3. The proposal was considered by the School Organisation Committee (SOC) on Monday 20 November 2006. The committee failed to agree unanimously to the proposal and the case was referred to me as an adjudicator in accordance with paragraph 3(6) of Schedule 6 to the Act. I am satisfied that I have jurisdiction to consider this matter under the powers conferred by Schedule 6 to the Act. Procedures 4. As required by Schedule 6 to the Act, I have considered the proposal afresh and have had full regard to the guidance given by the Secretary
of State. As required by Schedule 5 to the Act I have had regard to the relevant provision of: The Sex Discrimination Act 1975; The Race Relations Act 1976; and The Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I have also had regard to The Human Rights Act 1998. 5. I have considered all the papers put before me including the following: a. the agenda and supporting papers for the committee meeting of 20 November 2006 and the draft minutes of that meeting; b. prescribed information from the proposer as set out in Schedule 3 to the Education (School Organisation Proposals) (England) Regulations 1999; c. the School Organisation Plan for Rutland for 2003-2008; d. copies of objections received after publication of the proposals and the proposers’ observations on the objections and disagreements received; e. representations from the LA, the groups on the committee, objectors, supporters and the schools, including responses to questions put by me; f. Ofsted inspection reports for the schools and for Uppingham Community College; g. admission arrangements for primary and secondary schools in Rutland; and h. information, including minutes of meetings, requested by me from the schools, diocese and LA. 6. I also visited on Thursday 11 January 2007 the two schools named in the statutory proposal, the site of the proposed new school and some of the villages surrounding Uppingham. The purpose of the visit was solely to view first hand the school accommodation and the geography of the locality, and not to receive representations. I arranged an informal public meeting at Uppingham Community College held on the same day. The meeting was attended by parents, pupils, staff, governors, officers of the local authority, politicians and other interested persons. I have considered the representations made to me at that meeting and subsequently. The Proposal 7. The proposal is to (i) to discontinue Leighfield Primary School and Uppingham Church of England Primary School and (ii) establish a new community primary school, from Tuesday 26 August 2008. Background. 8. The LA conducted an authority-wide consultation, with responses by 21
January 2005, about the provision of primary education under the heading Vision 2010. It stated “In Rutland we believe that every child deserves to learn in modern school buildings with 21 st century facilities. This is our vision and we want to achieve it by 2010.” The vision statement includes aims for continuing education excellence and provision of integrated services to support the whole family. One of the outcomes of that consultation is the proposal put forward by councillors and officials for three new schools to replace six existing schools, with financial support to be sought from the DfES. One of the three proposals secured financial support from the DfES and this concerns Uppingham: it is the subject of this determination. 9. A public consultation on the proposal was conducted during June and July 2006 which was followed by the publication of a statutory notice on 30 August 2006. 10. The papers I have seen suggest that there has been a shifting in opinion during the course of the consultations with some people throughout this time vehemently against any change, others who seem to have changed their minds from being in favour to being against and some remaining in favour and looking forward to a new school even if the precise terms of the proposal are not entirely as they would wish. 11. Leighfield Primary School has 237 pupils on roll, of whom over half live outside the catchment area for the school. In the admission booklet for Septemebr 2007 the capacity of the school is given as 240 and the planned admission number (PAN) is 35. Uppingham CE Primary School has 134 pupils on roll. Its capacity is given as 150 and its planned admission number is 30. The Objection 12. The draft minutes of Rutland SOC and the decision letter indicate that three groups - the Local Authority, the Catholic Diocese and the Children’s Education Advisory Service (representing the interests of service children and their families) - voted in favour and two groups the schools and the Church of England Diocese - voted against the proposal. The views of the members of the SOC who voted against are reflected in the objections and the supportive views are covered in the positive comments contained in this determination. 13. I have considered the proposal afresh and taken into account all the material available to the SOC, written and oral representations made directly to me, the extra information requested by me and the answers to questions put by me. 14. In response to the statutory consultation the LA received 124 individual responses representing 103 families, collective responses from 5 groups and a petition co-ordinated by the Uppingham Save Our Schools group containing over 2000 signatures. In summary, the main objections are:
a. a lack of evidence that educational standards would be maintained or raised in the new school; b. a school of 420 pupils is too large; c. a reduction in choice of schools available to parents; d. the loss of places at a Church of England school; e. the loss of the successful management teams in the schools; f. the loss of the schools’ distinctive ethos; g. too little financial information available and not a good use of public money; h. no confidence that the facilities in the new school would be significantly superior to those currently available; and i. simply do not want any change.
Consideration of Factors Standards of Education 15. Educational standards are high at both schools. The pupils at both schools achieve good results in key stage tests. Results at Uppingham CE were particularly good in 2006 with significant value added for those pupils. The good results at Key Stage 2 at Leighfield have fluctuated over recent years and most recently the value added has dipped a little. 16. The quality of education at both schools is good and parents have made plain to me how pleased they are with the provision at the schools. They like the overall education their children receive and the ethos of the schools. However, as good schools there is still plenty of scope to become excellent, an aim of the proposal. 17. Those opposed to the proposal do not believe that standards at the new school would be as good as, or even better than, the two schools achieve now with their pupils. Many of the objectors are of the opinion that standards would fall. 18. I agree that new buildings of themselves do not ensure that standards will rise nor do less than ideal or buildings that may be deteriorating automatically mean that standards will fall. To a great extent it is the attitude of the staff and parents and how they convey their expectations to their pupils and children that are likely to have the determining effect on children’s achievements. 19. A complaint against the proposal is the lack of evidence from the LA about raising standards. I accept that the plans for the school should outline the ways in which the new provision would aid improvement, but
I am not convinced by this oft quoted shortcoming about the lack of evidence. The overriding impression I have gained is of a significant number of people who simply do not want any change and are determined by one means or another to undermine the proposal. I reject the view that not wanting change is a reason for turning down the proposal. 20. Neither do I accept that the establishment of a new school means that the ethos of the two schools or the management expertise would necessarily be lost. The best of both schools should transfer to the new school and should ensure progress towards becoming excellent, unless those working at and involved with the school decide otherwise. 21. I have noted that Leighfield, through its parents, staff, governors and children, has expended much effort in saying that the proposal should not go ahead and emphasising the negative features. There would be a significant risk that their dislike of the proposal would lead to a selffulfilling prophesy, and standards would fall. I have also read more measured responses that consider the advantages as well as the disadvantages. These seem to come from those connected with Uppingham CE Primary School. 22. I have come to the view that the opportunities offered through the proposals have the potential to and would, if embraced by staff, parents and governors, ensure that the best of the current practice is maintained and offer scope for innovation and even higher achievement, not least by capitalising on the extra facilities available. Need for places 23. Rutland has 17 primary schools of which several have greater than 25% surplus places. It both gains and loses pupils from and to neighbouring authorities. Some Rutland parents choose a Rutland school, but travel out of their catchment area to the school of their choice. 24. The documents relating to the proposal show that Leighfield has a PAN of 35, capacity of 240 and 237 pupils on roll. Uppingham CE has a PAN of 30, capacity of 210 and 134 pupils on roll. The new school would have a PAN of 60 and capacity of 420. Between 2006 and 2026 there is an expectation that the number of 5 to 9 year olds will rise by 5 to 6 per cent. 25. Currently about 370 children attend primary school in Uppingham of which about one third travel from out of their school’s catchment area. A new school with a capacity of 420 would provide significantly more places than are needed at present and more than the predicted rise in the population would require for the town and surrounding villages. 26. Given that so many pupils currently come from outside the catchment area it is not certain what the future pattern would be for such admissions. A new school is thought by some objectors to be likely to
attract pupils at the expense of other smaller schools. Others say 420 would be too big and thus smaller schools may gain pupils who do not wish to attend the larger school. 27. Those currently choosing to travel to Uppingham refer to the particular qualities of the schools as they are now. Any change may affect future preferences. I have also noted, however, that the inspection report on Uppingham Community College describes it as a “good school with some outstanding features” and it says it is “popular and oversubscribed”. Further research reveals that the first oversubscription criterion gives priority to those living in the catchment area of, or attending eight named primary schools, two of which are the schools affected by this proposal. I have therefore pondered on the impact of this oversubscription criterion on the recruitment to the primary schools. 28. Although the prescribed information refers to a capacity of 210 for Uppingham CE, the admissions booklet for September says it is 150. These variations in the figures in different places have been noted by some of the objectors. The timing of the change in the capacity is not entirely clear as the level of surplus places referred to in different places seems to indicate a longer time ago than is recorded elsewhere. Whether the school has a capacity or 150 or 210 clearly has a significant effect on the level of surplus places. 29. I fully accept that a school for 420 pupils would allow single age classes, an arrangement generally preferred by parents and teachers. I do not accept that a two-form entry school constitutes an unreasonably large school. However, I am not convinced that Uppingham and its surrounding villages need a school with 420 places either now or in the foreseeable future without there potentially being an impact on other schools. I am not convinced by the statement the proposal would remove surplus places. Finance 30. The prescribed information details the cost of establishing the proposed new school as £8.5m. This would be financed with £4,374,164 Targeted Capital Fund (TCF) secured through a bid to DfES, matched by £1,093,541 from the Children’s Services Capital Programme. The balance of just over £3m would be funded from part of the proceeds of sale of the existing school sites. 31. Some objectors have claimed that the money should be spent elsewhere. This is not an option as the TCF money can only be used for this proposal or returned to the DfES. 32. Other objectors complain of a lack of detail about financial matters. The bid to the DfES and the prescribed information show where savings would be made by having one school instead of two, the extra services to be available and a breakdown of building and associated costs. This information is sufficient to be able to consider the proposal,
in my opinion, but leaves details to be checked by the decision maker. 33. Paragraph 3(4) of Schedule 6 to The Act requires that adequate financial resources will be available to implement the proposals. The statutory guidance says that the decision maker must be satisfied that any capital required to implement the proposal will be available. The guidance makes specific reference to proposals that depend on capital receipts from the disposal of land and refers separately to the disposal of school playing fields. 34. I have considered the matter of the timing of seeking and obtaining consent for the disposal of the sites of the voluntary controlled and foundation primary schools, and who might be responsible for obtaining such consents and when. As yet no consent for any disposal has been sought. Furthermore, there is no written agreement about the ownership of the Uppingham CE Primary School site, an issue to be resolved following past changes in local government organisation. I accept the LA’s view that the guidance is not absolutely clear on the matter of obtaining consent, but am of the opinion that I would be exceeding my jurisdiction to interpret the guidance as freely as the LA would wish. Not least as the sites include playing fields and the guidance specifies clearly that the prior consent of the Secretary of State must be obtained where it is proposed that capital should be raised from the disposal of school playing fields. 35. Although I accept the LA’s statement that the issue of using part of the funds from disposal was not raised during the SOC decision making process I do not accept that this means members were satisfied with the proposals for funding. The forms used by the committee members to record their decision and their reasons do not allow me to assess whether they regarded the proposed financial arrangements as satisfactory or not. The forms contain sections for effect on standards and contribution to school improvement, views of interested parties, the need for places and so on, but do not have a section for finance. Given the specific legislation referred to above this is a serious omission. 36. Having considered all the documents relating to the financial plans for the proposal, I have concluded that there are too many uncertainties for me to be satisfied that the necessary financial resources, including capital receipts, will be available to implement the proposals Views of Interested Parties 37. The LA conducted consultations about the future of primary education in Rutland as part of Vision 2010. They then consulted on the specific proposal for Uppingham prior to the publication of the statutory notice. I am satisfied that, as required, all those who may be interested have had the opportunity to express their views both at meetings and in writing. A range of meetings ensured that governors, parents, staff and community groups have had the opportunity to hear about the proposal, seek clarification and make their views known. The requirements for consultation have been met.
38. I have concluded that those connected with Leighfield Primary School are opposed to the proposal. They raised most of the objections listed above. A vigorous and vociferous campaign has been run by Uppingham Save Our Schools group whose members are mostly, though not exclusively, connected with Leighfield. They have raised specific objections, for example in relation to standards, and have presented material selected to support their case. I am not convinced that sufficient attention has been given to considering the potential benefits of the proposals. I have come to the view that many people just do not want any change. 39. The minutes of meetings of governors at Uppingham CE Primary School and some individual responses that can be linked to those connected with the school also reveal concerns about the proposal. However, they go on to consider fully the advantages as well as the disadvantages and they take account of the full extent of the proposal with the extra services and facilities that would be available. The overall conclusion they came to is that they should support the proposal, despite some reservations. 40. I have concluded that in terms of numbers there are more people who have indicated their opposition to the proposal than are in favour. I have also concluded that many of those who have written or spoken about the proposal have sought information with which to inform their decision. Those against have seem to have concentrated on reasons why they believe the proposal should be rejected while those in favour show they have considered the positive and negative aspects and have considered the benefits that might be gained by the wider community. I am satisfied that the views of interested parties have been sought and there has been plenty of opportunity for people to comment on the proposals and make their views known. Balance of Type of Schools 41. Uppingham CE Primary School is a voluntary controlled school and Leighfield Primary School is a foundation school. The proposed new primary school would be a community school. The closure of these two schools and replacement by the new school would reduce the number of places available at a Church of England school. 42. The reduction in total number of places in Rutland would in my view have a limited impact, but the location of Uppingham CE Primary School in relation to places in the other Church of England schools is significant. The number of places would be reduced so that the southernmost part of the county would not have any such places. 43. The LA refers in its papers to making transport available for pupils to attend an alternative church school, but there are no guarantees about how long such an arrangement would last. Among the comments from those who oppose the proposal are references to guarantees given previously when small village church schools closed that there would always be a church school in Uppingham. While promises about future
provision are no doubt given in good faith, no-one can be bound for all time by such commitments. However, given that such promises seem to have been made within recent history, it is not surprising that some have put forward this undertaking as a reason for maintaining the status quo. 44. A Church of England primary school that might recruit pupils in the event of Uppingham CE closing is strongly against the proposal because it fears a new school might cause a loss of pupils to what may be seen as a “super” school. It also acknowledges that it might, of course, recruit pupils which it would welcome. 45. There are also differing views about the status of the proposed new school. The bid I have seen is for a community school. The bid also states that it has the support of the diocese. Other papers I have seen do not lead me to the conclusion that the bid to the DfES had the unqualified support of the diocese. Some of the representations to me assert that the original bid to the DfES for financial support was for a church school. Whatever the precise position, the proposal would undoubtedly reduce the number of places available at church schools in Rutland. 46. A survey conducted among the parents of pupils at Uppingham CE Primary School showed that they would prefer a new school to be a church school, but would prefer a new school even if it could not be a church school. 47. The closure of the two schools and opening of one does reduce choice for parents. It is clear that pupils travel significant distances as parents wish their child to attend the school of their choice. There are some misunderstandings about what choice actually means in that parents have a right to express a preference for a school, not a right for their child to attend a particular school. Nevertheless, I accept that choice would be reduced. 48. In addition to considering the balance of types of schools, a decision maker must also take into account the statutory guidance. An “adjudicator should not approve proposals for closure where the relevant church SOC group had voted against its closure and it is clear that the closure, in conjunction with any related changes, will reduce the proportion of such denominational places within the LEA, unless it is failing or severely undersubscribed”. 49. The guidance to decision makers is a matter of “should not” rather than “must not”. The Church of England Diocesan representative voted against the proposal, the proposal would reduce the proportion of denominational places, and the school is certainly not failing. As to the extent it is undersubscribed, that depends on the particular PAN and capacity figures that are used for the calculation. For the current year and in its recent past I am of the view that the school is not severely undersubscribed.
50. I have studied the minutes of meetings of diocesan committees and note that they are in favour of the proposal in some respects, but as time has passed have remained concerned about two features in particular: the status of the new school and its size. The Diocesan Board of Education (the board) does not feel that the status of the school was adequately debated within the schools and with the public in general. The board’s main concern is the size of the school. It believes that a 2-form entry school is larger than Uppingham and its surrounding villages need. Also, experience elsewhere has shown that new schools have been a magnet for parents which would be likely to have an adverse knock-on effect for other schools in the county. 51. I am satisfied that the reservations expressed through the vote against the proposal by the Diocese are sufficient for me to act in accordance with the guidance to reject the proposal. Rural Schools 52. Both the schools proposed for closure are designated as rural schools by the DfES. I am therefore instructed in the statutory guidance to decision makers about rural schools and sites that I should have regard to the need to preserve a local school for rural communities. There is a presumption against the closure of rural schools. 53. The schools are both located within the town of Uppingham and the proposed new school would also be within Uppingham. If the proposal were to be approved two sites would become available for other purposes and a new site would be developed to accommodate the new school. This site would have playing spaces and improved provision for traffic management, an important consideration given the poor access to the existing schools. I have already considered the need for places and am satisfied that the new school would not reduce the places available for children living in Uppingham and the surrounding villages. 54. I am satisfied that the reasons for the presumption against closure are not significant with respect to this proposal and that the new school would serve the rural community at least as well as the two existing schools. Community Cohesion 55. Among the papers I have seen are documents that refer to tensions between supporters of the two schools, divisions in the community and the pressure exerted by those opposed to the proposal to the extent of intimidating anyone who expressed support. I read the minutes of a meeting of a committee of the Diocesan Board of Education with a growing sense of disbelief that some of those campaigning against the proposal had taken their campaign to the church the previous Sunday and had disrupted the regular act of worship. 56. As I have read the statutory objections and correspondence addressed
directly to me and listened to some of the contributions at the public meeting and the response of others, I have thought very carefully about the effect of the proposal on the cohesion of the community and the impact of those campaigning against the proposal on future relations in the community. 57. I have been unable to detect anything constructive in the attitude of Leighfield and those associated with it in relation to what might happen if the proposal were to be approved. Nothing, such as we don’t want this change to take place but if it does we will turn our effort to making it work for the sake of the children. Also, some comments at the meeting I convened struck me as being inflammatory, very short-sighted and unsubstantiated. Such public dissent has added to the tension in the community. 58. An objector has written to me of the good relations between current pupils and parents at the two schools. Also that they attend the same pre-school, travel to and from school on the same buses and end up together at Uppingham Community College. They play together, play in the same sports teams and so on. The only difference the writer’s young children notice between their friends from the two schools is the colour of their sweat shirts. After all this positive comment about relationships at child and parent level, the writer failed to go on to consider what further good might be achieved through the proposal and spoke strongly against the proposal at the public meeting. 59. I have concluded that there is a lack of community cohesion that manifests itself in the response to the proposal. The campaign orchestrated by the Uppingham Save Our Schools group has polarised views and those in favour of the proposal have made plain to me their reluctance to speak publicly. I am concerned that the opposition to the proposal by the loud majority would jeopardise any chance of the smooth running of a new school. Other 60. Before the proposal could be implemented, planning permission is required for the new school. If I were minded to approve the proposal it would be conditional on gaining the necessary planning permission. Conclusion 61. I have considered the proposal afresh as required and as was the wish expressed by some objectors. On educational grounds it is my opinion that a new school would be the right outcome for the children and families of Uppingham and the surrounding area. I have also noted the opposition to the proposal and am aware therefore of the risk to the success of implementation if educational grounds had been my only consideration. 62. I have concluded that having regard to the statutory guidance and the law I should not approve the proposal for the following reasons:
a. The Church of England Diocesan representative at the SOC voted against the proposal and I do not believe that the conditions when I might consider overruling this vote apply in this case. b. I have been unable to satisfy myself that adequate financial resources, including capital receipts, will be available to enable the proposal to be implemented. No consents for disposal have been obtained, the ownership of the Uppingham CE Primary School site has not been formalised and alternative funding in the event of consents not being granted cannot be guaranteed. This too means that I must reject the proposal. Determination 63. Under the powers conferred on me by Schedule 6 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, I hereby reject the proposal to (i) discontinue Leighfield Primary School and Uppingham Church of England Primary School and (ii) establish a new community primary school. Dated: Signed: Schools Adjudicator: 23 February 2007 Dr Elizabeth Passmore