Councillors back plans to close Rydon Community College

Rydon Community College
Rydon Community College

Plans to close Rydon Community College but keep the site open for primary and secondary education were endorsed by county councillors today (Monday April 18).

Officer proposals would see first schools in the Storrington area become full primary schools, Thakeham First School would relocate to Rydon’s Rock Road site, with some Year 7 and 8 pupils from Steyning Grammar School also based at an annexe on the site from September 2017.

Rydon currently take pupils from years 6 to 8, and staff and parents have campaigned to retain the school as an academy for 11-16-year-olds.

But officers’ proposals were endorsed by the council’s children and young people’s select committee today (Monday), with the cabinet member for education and skills to make the final decision.

This is part of the county council’s policy to eliminate age of transfer in the middle of key stages.

Alan Brien, chairman of governors at Rydon, said his staff were ‘fundamentally opposed’ to the council’s proposals and questioned the pupil projections they were based on.

He told councillors Rydon had an academy partner it was not able to publicly disclose at this stage, and governors thought they could create a ‘very rich offering’.

He added: “We think it will be very positive and achieve the overwhelming support of the community.”

But Nick Wergan, headteacher of Steyning Grammar School (SGS), said: “The [officer] proposal has exciting potential to take one of West Sussex’s best learning pathways and make it exceptional.”

He estimated that an 11-16 school at Rydon could reduce their total pupil numbers by about 600, but Mr Brien said that their view was that with careful planning it would not have any effect on Steyning.

David Barling (Con, Bramber Castle) said: “I would never ever do anything to harm the pupils at Steyning Grammar School and it would be an insane proposal to create an all-through 11-16 school at Storrington. That would definitely harm Steyning Grammar School.”

Paul High (Con, Worthing West), acting vice chairman of the select committee, said he found reports that children were feeling intimdiated during the consultation ‘a little bit disturbing’.

Officers explained they had received a number of complaints with children in some cases feeling ‘unhappy’ when asked to support Rydon through the consultation.

One reported case involved an IT lesson where an electronic consultation form was put in front of pupils and they were ‘told to fill in the response to support the school’, officers said.

Mr Brien disagreed with the county council’s estimated capital costs of between £11m and £14m to create a 11-16 school at Rydon, but contrary to what he said officers explained that WSCC would have to provide that money from its basic needs budget for extra school places.

The committee was told that Rydon would only be able to receive capital investment directly from the Secretary of State if it closed and a free school was opened on the site.

Jay Mercer, interim director for education and skills at WSCC, said that the regional schools commissioner would have to approve a school such as Rydon becoming an academy, and in such a case they would not allow it to go ahead to stop a closure.

Mr Brien replied: “That’s not our understanding.”

Sam Norton, headteacher at Thakeham First School, said they had to have pupil learning at the heart of proposals, with key stage 2 results in the Storrington Area Rural Schools (STARS) lower than the county council and national average in recent years.

The proposals also cover Amberley CE First School, Ashington CE First School, Storrington First School, Thakeham First School, St Mary’s CE First School (Washington) and West Chiltington First School.

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