ONGOING plans to close a 170-year-old rural school on the Isle of Wight have been at the centre of conflicting reports regarding a regulatory body.

According to the Save Our School campaign — which aims to halt the closure — the Department for Education (DfE) had confirmed the IW Council will need to pursue a different statutory process to push through the closure of Chillerton and Rookley Primary School.

A campaign spokesperson said they received word following proposals from the Stenbury Federation, which runs the school, to amalgamate Chillerton and Rookley with Godshill Primary School.

It says parents and consultees were told legally there was no such position as an amalgamation of two schools and such an outcome would only mean the closure of one of the schools concerned. 

Earlier this year, the IW Council identified the school having just 34 of 91 places taken and it receiving no first preference applications for the 2021/22 academic year as reasons for the closure. 

It also pointed at an estimated budget deficit of around £101,000 for 2020/21, which it forecast to grow to £225,000 by 2023 due to a decline in pupil numbers.

Isle of Wight County Press: Consultation over primary's future after falling numbers and rising deficitConsultation over primary's future after falling numbers and rising deficit

Last week, the Save Our School group says it received confirmation from the DfE that the procedure to close Chillerton and Rookley Primary School should follow the ‘opening and closing maintained schools’ guidance. 

It says the news came shortly after local government Ombudsman criticised the IW Council for not following procedures set out in law relating to children’s services.

A spokesperson for the Save Our School group said: “Firstly, I would like to pay tribute to staff at the school who are doing an outstanding job under difficult circumstances. 

"At best, the council has misled parents and consultees by referring them to incorrect guidance, at worst it has not followed well established statutory guidelines. 

"Clarity from the DfE is welcome and will ensure plans to close a beautiful, rural school receive adequate scrutiny. I call on the Isle of Wight Council to recognise this feedback and stop the consultation.

"Although this is a great victory for the Save Our School group, the real work is still to be done. 

"We need to understand how the school has spent up to £100,000 on ‘brought in professional services’ and work towards restoring this beautiful school to its former glory.”

An Isle of Wight Council spokesperson responded: “The DfE has been kept regularly informed by the IW Council about the informal consultation currently taking place.

"(It is) satisfied the informal consultation that has recently been completed was undertaken correctly. 

"Clearly if proposals are taken forward formally then the DfE guidance will be followed as it has been with previous consultations."