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Norfolk school closure was a ‘stitch-up’ claims county councillor

PUBLISHED: 06:30 22 July 2014

Eccles, Hargham and Wilby Primary school closed last Wednesday, despite a campaign by parents.

Eccles, Hargham and Wilby Primary school closed last Wednesday, despite a campaign by parents.

Archant norfolk

The decision to close a rural Norfolk primary school has been blasted as “a stitch-up” by a furious county councillor.

Eccles, Hargham and Wilby Primary School will shut for the final time on Wednesday. In January, the school’s governors approached the council and the diocese asking for a consultation on its future.

The council issued a formal proposal saying the school would be shut because: “A continued decline in pupil numbers and changes to school funding are making it increasingly difficult to manage the budget and to bring about sustained improvement in educational outcomes for its pupils.”

As of January this year, the school had just 27 pupils on its roll.

But parents said the school had made a “massive difference” to their children’s education, with its small setting particularly helping those with special learning needs.

They formed a group called Parents Against the Closure of Eccles School and hoped to convince councillors not to allow the school to be shut.

But Conservative county councillor Steve Askew, who represents the Guiltcross division which the school is in, yesterday attacked the process which led to the school’s fate being sealed.

At a meeting of the full Norfolk County Council he said: “It’s a very sad day, because this week will see the closure of Eccles Primary School. The people of Eccles and the surrounding area feel they have been stitched up in this process.

“Having been given assurances this decision would come before members to be debated, the residents were mortified to be told the decision was taken before the meeting, without a debate.

“I’ve been given an explanation, but feel that was not satisfactory. I though the whole point of the new committee system was for it to be open.”

But James Joyce, chairman of the council’s children’s services committee, said the decision had “fallen between two systems” during the switch from a cabinet to committee system at County Hall, which was why it was not discussed by councillors.

The decision was made by Sheila Lock, interim director of children’s services, following consultation with Liberal Democrat Mr Joyce.

Mr Joyce said the school had falling numbers and it was costing between £8,000 to £11,000 to educate each child, compared to the Norfolk average of £4,000.

• Do you have a story about a school? Call education reporter Martin George on 01603 772468 or email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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