MORE than 200 outraged parents, staff and pupils packed into Rogate Primary School to protest against plans to close the village school in 2010. Colin James, West Sussex County Council's head of children's resources, faced a barrage of accusations at last Thursday's public meeting, with locals claiming plans to "re-shuffle" education in the Rother Valley are lacking thought, and are ultimately for financial gain. The beleaguered Mr James endured a torrid evening, standing accused of being an "unsympathetic spin doctor", while continual demands to "answer the question" peppered debate. With the county council cabinet member for education Mark Dunn "on holiday", Mr James was unfazed by a barrage from villagers, who outlined a sterling case to keep the 41-pupil school open. They claim the county council has shirked the consultation phase, saying that the deal has already been done, with allegations of legality abounding regarding an insufficient consultation period. Chairman of governors Paul Hardwick said: "We are going to look at the legality of the proposals, and there are several other avenues for us to explore." Parish councillor Ian Croucher was direct with his opinions, saying: "You and your colleagues are spin doctors and this is not the situation for spin. We are talking about children's education, and you have not dealt with the facts." Parent and chartered surveyor Fraser Castle rubbished Mr James' suggestions that the underlying reason for proposals was not to do with the sale of prime land. "I find it staggering that you haven't undertaken any form of valuation on this. I have worked with many local councils, and none of them would undertake any exercise without financial advice," he said. "We don't need school sites, that's not the question," Mr James replied. Criticism also came from the county council's Nola Hendon, who claimed the body had "made a PR cock-up of this, putting it mildly". "Somewhere along the line we've got it wrong. I know there is not a bottomless pit of money, but villages need schools, their shops and their churches. We should be listening to local people, and in this case, we haven't. "I, as a county councillor, am embarrassed and upset about what has happened here, and I will be at the forefront fighting tooth and nail to keep this school open," she remarked. The county council's director of education, Robert Back, said: "There are some clear messages coming through – the first is that the community wants to keep its school. "We don't want to close this school. Rogate is my favourite school and it is not economical to close primary schools, but we have to make them successful." Staff were informed of proposals to close the school last week, with West Sussex County Council announcing plans to streamline its 17 primary schools to a meagre 11. Mr Hardwick added: "It has been a really difficult week for everyone, yet the teachers continue professionally and the morale in the school at the moment is incredibly high. It is important we keep the support going," he added. A website – http://www.saverogateschool.com">www.saverogateschool.com – has been launched to aid the campaign to save Rogate Primary School. n Parents' reaction to the school closure threat – see next week's Petersfield Herald.
Protesters rail against school closure plans
Friday 14th March 2008 12:00 am