Response to statutory consultation notice to close The Henry Prince C.E. (C) First School & Nursery

The governing body of Henry Prince CE (C) First School has approved a period of statutory consultation on a proposal to close the school on 31 August 2019. The Formal Consultation period is 23 January to 5 March 2019.

The governing body issued a consultation background paper as part of the formal consultation process which explained what the school agreed to do, with the support of Staffordshire County Council, following the 2017 campaign by local people and Mayfield Parish Council to stop the earlier proposed consultation on closing the school in 2018. This included:

  • Increasing the age range to become a primary school
  • Introducing wraparound early years provision
  • Positive engagement with QEGS on their future admission arrangements

Further promotion of the school: issuing press releases, reception admissions flyers, advertising Year 5 open evenings, promoting nursery places, supported by local parish councillors and developing a new website.

Despite Henry Prince school making positive progress on many of the issues that it agreed to address with Staffordshire County Council, the school’s governing body makes clear in their consultation paper on the proposed closure of the school that it has ‘exhausted all other options available to them to secure the future of the school.

A key factor in the governing body’s decision to propose closing Henry Prince school is the inability to attract sufficient children for a Reception place in 2019, with only 5 applications for the 15 available places. This is despite evidence that there are 21 children across Mayfield who could have applied for a Reception place in September 2019. It is clear therefore that Mayfield parents are deciding not to select Henry Prince school as their preferred choice. This fact is having a continuing negative impact on the school’s finances and its ability to reduce the deficit as required in the 2017/2018 agreement with Staffordshire County Council to keep the school open.

Henry Prince school therefore clearly cannot survive as a good rural community school for Mayfield without the full support of local parents and children. This is the key issue that we must tackle together to keep Henry Prince school open.

Mayfield Parish Council

The Parish Council has made it clear that it supports Henry Prince remaining open. This decision was taken during the 2017/2018 consultation on the proposed closure of the school by the governing body.

While the Parish Council has no statutory responsibility for school matters it agreed in 2018 to support the PTA in funding for laptops for the school, which unfortunately is not now proceeding because of the decision by the governing body to consult on the closure. In addition the Parish Council has established an Education sub-group to support Henry Prince and councillors have given support to the school’s marketing group, as well as campaigning to keep the school open during the current round of public consultation on school closure.

In addition to supporting Henry Prince school the Parish Council has a duty to protect and enhance Mayfield as a sustainable community. This is a duty we take very seriously and keeping Henry Prince school open is a core element of what constitutes a sustainable community. Henry Prince school is at the heart of the village, educationally, socially and geographically. Its loss would leave a gaping hole in our village and mean that Mayfield essentially becomes a dormitory settlement with few other public or commercial services on the edge of a rapidly expanding Ashbourne.

Moreover one of the key tests for closing a rural school, according to Government guidelines, is to assess fully the impact that any school closure will have on its community. This test, as far as we are concerned, has not been fully assessed in the current closure consultation and we need to ensure that it is assessed before any final decision is taken by Staffordshire County Council in May 2019.

Key issues for the Parish Council to consider in keeping Henry Prince school open

There are a range of issues that parish councillors have raised with Henry Prince school and Staffordshire County councillors during this current round of consultation. We are still awaiting answers. There are also other issues, which we have only recently been informed about, which could be key factors in any future strategy and business plan to keep Henry Prince school open. These are:

  • At the public meeting on 12 February representatives of the Lichfield Diocesan body indicated that there might be funding which could be invested to keep the school open. The Diocesan representatives promised to let us know what that might be. We have not been told what this figure is.
  • At the public meeting on 12 February Councillor Philip White, from Staffordshire County Council, agreed to speak to his counterpart in Derbyshire County Council about how Henry Prince school could assist in meeting the future, significant, planned increase in pupil numbers in Ashbourne, arising from the current and planned new residential development of nearly 2,000 homes. We are awaiting Councillor White’s response.
  • At the public meeting on 12 February Councillor Philip White was asked what the net cost of closing Henry Prince school was, including the cost of providing transport for children to attend schools in Denstone and Rocester, if the school closed. Furthermore he was also asked what the County’s attitude would be to agreeing to the closure of the school if the net cost of closing the school was greater than keeping Henry Prince open. We need to know this cost before any decision is taken to closing Henry Prince school.
  • We need to know why Mayfield parents are choosing not to send their children to Henry Prince school. Parish councillors have asked the school what the reasons are but there is no definitive explanation. There needs to be a survey of Mayfield residents on this crucial matter to establish what the reasons are and how they could be addressed in a future robust business plan for Henry Prince school to keep it open.
  • We were surprised to be told on 11 February, a day before the public meeting on the proposed closure of Henry Prince school, that there was no business plan to manage the reduction of the school’s financial deficit and therefore no sustainable strategy to engage in positive discussions on the federation with other schools to avoid closure. Without a robust business plan Henry Prince school appears to be in a very vulnerable situation. This is something that can be addressed if the school remains open.
  • We were surprised to be told at the public meeting, by a parent governor on the governing body, that there appeared to have been a cost effective wraparound care offer which was not taken forward because of apparent Ofsted issues. We need to know more about this offer, which could have been particularly helpful in attracting more parents to send their children to Henry Prince school. Henry Prince’s own wraparound offer was more costly and did not attract sufficient parent demand to survive. The school closed the wraparound care offer in January 2019.
  • What is the transport offer of sending young children to schools in Rocester and Denstone, both of which are over 3 miles away.
  • Is it reasonable for Staffordshire County Council to expect Henry Prince school to have completely changed its offer for parents, and reduced the deficit sufficiently, within a year. Surely more time is required for the school to achieve this, which would give confidence to local parents that the school has a long term future and select Henry Prince for their children.

A new way forward

Mayfield Parish Council urges the Henry Prince governing body to reconsider its proposal to close Henry Prince school. We feel that the school needs more time to recover from the initial proposal to close in 2017/2018 and produce a sustainable business plan that will attract local parents to choose our rural community school over other schools elsewhere in Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

In addition, at this stage, there are still many questions for the school, the County and the Diocesan Board of Education to answer. Without these answers we do not know whether the proposal to close Henry Prince could ever be in the best interest of our community.

We ask the Henry Prince governing body, in conjunction with the County Council and Mayfield Parish Council, to produce a sustainable business plan for the school to remain open. This will involve the creation of a new partnership for Mayfield comprising Henry Prince school, Mayfield Parish Council, East Staffordshire Borough Council, Staffordshire County Council and local businesses.