Councillors advised to shut down Wigan primary school

Dismayed bosses of a Wigan school have vowed to fight on after senior councillors were advised to shut it.
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Falling numbers at both Platt Bridge Holy Family and Abram Bryn Gates primaries have meant the local authority has been forced under government rules to do something about it.

And after months of consultation, a recommendation has been made to this week’s ruling cabinet that the latter should close.

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Winding up Bryn Gates would remove the last state school from the area - a move which has angered the National Secular Society - while the local Trades Council has already said that the town hall should really keep both institutions open.

Abram Bryn Gates PrimaryAbram Bryn Gates Primary
Abram Bryn Gates Primary

But it is predicted that the council would have to bail out the two schools to the tune of £450,000 by 2024 due to a shortage of new pupils coming in at reception level, and the bigger amount would be Bryn Gates with a deficit of £288,000.

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This loss of cash, says assistant education director Cath Pealing in her report to

cabinet, would then have a detrimental effect on the funding and education of other schools and pupils in the borough.

Cath PealingCath Pealing
Cath Pealing
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The options have been further complicated by the fact that Holy Family is in the process of converting into an academy - having received a bad Ofsted report several years ago (although it has received a much better one since) - which would take it out of Wigan Council control.

One of the often repeated positives from stakeholders during the consultation has been that small class sizes, caused by falling rolls, has had a positive impact on children’s learning. This is one of the reasons the Trades Council has said neither school should shut.

Closing either school would also have a big impact on travel and accessibility. For instance, the nearest non-faith school for pupils of Bryn Gates - which has “rural status” - is Nicol Mere Primary more than two miles away, presenting all manner of problems for transport, the length of the school day, families’ tight budgets and the environment (pollution caused by longer journeys), the consultation found.

One option that was on the table was to amalgamate the two schools, but that did not prove popular with parents.

Janice TabernerJanice Taberner
Janice Taberner
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In summing up her recommendataions, Ms Pealing advises that Bryn Gates closes because of its bigger deficit; the fact that its buildings are older than Holy Family’s and therefore will need more spending on their upkeep in future; that latest Ofted reports find Bryn Gates as requiring improvement and Holy Family as good; and the authority will be able to make a “reasonable offer” of alternative school places to Bryn Gates pupils.

Chair of Bryn Gates’ governors, Joanne Buckler, took exception to the publication of the report before the cabinet discusses it (although this is standard practice with all agendas), saying this makes it much harder for the ruling body to go against the recommendation.

She added: “The report submitted by The LA (local authority), is seen by all stakeholders, to contain double standards, contradictions and discriminatory practices, especially around the faith/non faith school place debate.

“The closure of our school takes Wigan one step closer to being one of the worst, if not the worst place, to access a non-faith-affiliated school place, in England.

Gillian TalbotGillian Talbot
Gillian Talbot
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“The reasons put forward by the LA to consult on our closure do not contain any new information, following the initial consultation, and the reasons stated for our proposed closure existed prior to the consultation.

“It is unlikely that there was no new information generated by the consultation but none of this information appears to feature in the reasoning.

“One of these being our rural school status. The only point that has been considered is the surplus of places and issues such as the impact on the community, increased use of motor vehicles and the use of the school by the local community seem to have been ignored.

“As a school and a community we will use the consultation as an opportunity to fight for our wonderful school and the community it serves, as it is so much more than money and budgets; something The LA seems comfortable to ignore.”

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In a previous statement, Bryn Gates executive headteacher Gillian Talbot said: “The LA have spent a significant amount of money on refurbishing the building over the last two years so to close us now would be a wasteful use of resources.

“Wigan has a very high number of faith schools, so to close Abram Bryn Gates would deny parents of their choice to send their child to a non-faith school.

“There are no community schools close by with enough spaces for all the Abram Bryn Gates children to attend. Children of all faiths are welcome to attend Abram Bryn Gates as there are no expectations around church attendance or baptism into a faith.”

Janice Taberner, excutive headteacher of Holy Family and St Benedict’s RC Primaries, said: “The school and its community are obviously pleased and relieved that Holy Family is remaining open.

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“The academy conversion is still being pursued but we don’t have a definite date yet.

“It is a very sad situation that any school should close, and we all feel for the staff and community of Abram Bryn Gates School.”

In a statement, Ms Pealing stressed that no decision had yet been taken on the schools in question.

She said: “Following a formal consultation phase in 2021 and after consideration of all of the responses, intelligence and feedback on the proposed closure of either Holy Family Catholic School or Abram Bryn Gates community primary school, a recommendation will now be presented to cabinet to consider approval to consult on the closure of Abram Bryn Gates Community School.

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“If approved, this means we will start a new consultation with Abram Bryn Gates governors, parents and carers, staff, and wider stakeholders and will again seek views and answer queries.

“All local authorities have a statutory duty to monitor sufficiency of school places for all residents and this involves balancing supply and demand and ensuring we have enough school places where we need them or reducing places where there are too many if it has a negative impact.

“A school’s budget is primarily based on the number of pupils on roll. If pupil numbers continue to fall over a sustained period of time, this would have a significant, negative, impact on school budgets and can have a detrimental impact on the educational offer for educational standards. We want to ensure that all children in the borough have access to the best education.

“We are aware that considering school closures is an upsetting scenario for those involved and we do not consider these options lightly. We have been monitoring the situation in the Abram area for a number of years.

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“No final decisions have been made and we are committed to listening to people’s views.”

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