CONSULTATION over the future of primary education in the West Wight has just ended a second, unscheduled, phase after the outcry which overwhelmed Plan A.

The plan, you’ll recall, originally involved closing All Saints CE in Freshwater, with its prime site sitting bang slap in the centre of the population, and hoiking its kids off, in the main, to the RC school in Totland via a nightmare commute of pavement-less country lanes.

This caused a huge kerfuffle.

IW Council planners were rightly called out for their over-reliance on Ofsted statistics, and Plan B then emerged.

It essentially involves transplanting Yarmouth CE Primary to the All Saints site, and makes a great deal more sense – especially in light of the revelation that just seven of Yarmouth’s 91 pupils actually live in the town, with 69 travelling from Freshwater.

School closures are always disruptive, and often damaging to children and their education, and should never be the first option as a way simply of saving money.

But we are where we are with that, and I can well understand the anger of Yarmouth people with what’s now being proposed – it mirrors the feelings in Freshwater a few weeks ago.

Some of that anger surfaced at Yarmouth Town Council’s recent annual meeting, with language evoking images of the Pied Piper of Hamelin – “The children won’t be brought back for the pancake races, the duck races.”

Actually I’m fairly sure mayor Steve Cowley will be proved wrong on that point should the plan be approved.

It’s one of the things the Yarmouth staff (being ‘stolen’ and moved to Freshwater, according to another resident) will be well placed to insist on.

But OK, passions are running high.

Less defensible, in my opinion, is the premature intervention of local ward councillor Stuart Hutchinson.

Cllr Hutchinson, as a member of Dave Stewart’s cabinet, is one of the ten people who will decide whether this plan goes ahead or not.

That’s because the education portfolio holder, Cllr Paul Brading, has chosen to refer the decision to cabinet rather than make it himself.

Public consultation on the plan ended on Tuesday, June 11, and the cabinet’s decision will be made after the results of the consultation have been analysed by officers and considered in formal session.

Yet at the May 21 Yarmouth meeting, with the consultation barely begun, Cllr Hutchinson announced he would vote against the ‘quite foolish’ plan, which he claimed had been put forward “because the people in Freshwater have said, ‘we have got a rotten school but we do not want it closed.’’’

I expect to see, in due course, a paraphrased version of the consultation results, both for phase one (close Freshwater) and phase two (close Yarmouth).

Paraphrase is one thing, but I don’t think the word ‘rotten,’ or any words like it, will feature prominently, or possibly at all, in All Saints supporters’ submissions.

Neither of Freshwater’s two IWC ward councillors is a cabinet member.

I don’t expect Cllr Brading intended to hand a political advantage to Yarmouth when he chose to pass the decision to cabinet.

But if that is to be the effect, then something needs to be done to level the playing field and make sure the future of West Wight education is decided on merit rather than the defence of political reputation.

A very good starting point would be for Cllr Hutchinson to remember an urgent prior engagement when he receives his cabinet agenda, and send his apologies for absence.

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