"Devastated" headteacher blasts decision to close down her Wigan primary school

A Wigan school is set to close its doors for good after the council revealed it would be half-a-million pounds in debt by the 2024/2025 school year.
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Abram Bryn Gates Primary will close on August 31, 2023 “in the best interests of educational provision in the Abram area”.

But its “devasted” headteacher has refuted claims about the deficit, says promised council support has yet to be seen and says the school will be pretty much closed by this summer because parents are already taking their children elsewhere in droves.

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Wigan Council officers have used projection data to see that there will not be a large enough rise in demand for places that cannot be tackled by other schools in the area – despite what objectors say. There are eight housing developments currently under construction in the area, but none of those would yield enough student places for the council to keep the school open.

Abram Bryn Gates' days are numberedAbram Bryn Gates' days are numbered
Abram Bryn Gates' days are numbered

There are currently no plans to replace the school – which means the number of schools in the area will be cut from four to three.

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Giving reasons for their decision following the meeting in the town hall, the cabinet said: “The recommendation to close a school was always a difficult one, however consideration must be given to the impact that declining school budgets and falling numbers of pupils on roll had on all children within an area.

"The Council would continue to review places within the area to ensure that there was balanced sufficiency.”

Headteacher Gillian TalbotHeadteacher Gillian Talbot
Headteacher Gillian Talbot
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A report showed that the school had made savings where possible and projected further savings if they moved to a four class structure and removed a teacher and teaching assistant.

"However, it was thought that projections continued to indicate that the school will have budget deficits and therefore will not be sustainable over the longer term.

“If no action is taken to reduce surplus places, this will have a significant financial impact for the schools in this and neighbouring localities,” a report said.

“Based on current pupil numbers and a revised school budget (detailed below) the cumulative deficit for the school is projected to be around -£570,000 by 2024/25.

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“There is likely to be an impact on staff who may be made redundant.

"Staff will be supported by our HR team. In the event of school closure staff will be supported to seek alternative roles and to seek to mitigate any potential compulsory redundancies as far as reasonably possible.

“The local authority is responsible for ensuring sufficiency of school places, that is, there are enough places available for its residents. Whilst it must have regard to the wishes of parents and offering a range of provision, it can only do this where there is financial viability to do so.”

But in an impassioned statement, Bryn Gates headteacher Gillian Talbot said: “We are devastated that the council have chosen to close our popular school.

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"We refute any suggestion that the school would be in a debt of around half a million pounds by 2024.

"We do not have a deficit currently and would obviously undergo a restructure in the future to ensure that we remain financially viable.

"The report to Cabinet used our current numbers which are obviously much lower than usual as parents have already moved their children to other schools.

"We are confident that if the consultation to close had never taken place we could have reduced to a successful four class school over the next two years.

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"It is sad that the council were not prepared to allow us to try this option before closing us down.

“The council have maintained that the school will close in August 2023.

"By the end of this school year we expect all our children to move to other schools which means that the school will close much sooner than anticipated.

"The council claim that this is parental choice, but who can blame them when there are so few places available in other schools?

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"Parents want their child to go to the school they choose and not one that they have been allocated.

"We have supported our families to make the best choice for their children and to ensure a smooth transition.

"The school knew that there was very little hope that the council would change their minds during the last consultation as they made it clear that a new, radical plan would have to be put forward to persuade them to change their minds.

“The report to cabinet suggests that staff will be supported through the closure. Staff have yet to see that support.

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"We have not yet been given an official closure date and have had no HR support from the council since the first consultation began.

"With only three weeks until the end of term we had hoped that there would have been a clear plan in place once the final decision was made on June 9 .

"This hardest part of the process for us has been the lack of support from the council for staff and the difficulties for parents in accessing information from the admissions team.

“The school is extremely grateful for the support from our local community.

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"The local Neighbourhood Forum, in particular, have been extremely active and have worked alongside our parent group to try and influence the decision.

"Abram Bryn Gates has been at the heart of Bamfurlong for decades and the closure will have a significant impact on the community.

“Our aim over the next few weeks is to ensure that the children have an amazing end of term. “We are going out on trips to Blackpool Zoo and Knowsley Safari Park.

"The circus is coming to visit and we are trying out some wonderful new sports such as Tchoukball and glow in the dark Zumba!

"The staff at Abram Bryn Gates are amazing and we will end the year knowing that we did what we always do- the very best for our children.”

The local trades council has hitherto opposed the closure proposals while the Secular Society had suggested illegality because of a lack of non-religious alternatives for Bryn Gates parents and pupils.

The following primary schools are within a two-mile walking distance:

▪ Holy Family Catholic Primary School

▪ St John’s Church of England Primary School

▪ Platt Bridge Community School

▪ St Wilfrid’s Catholic Primary School

▪ St Mary’s CE Primary School

The council said that efforts will be made to help siblings currently attending Abram Bryn Gates move to the same school to avoid them being split up.