Plea to save Ridgmont Lower School as closing it "will rip the heart out of our village"

Community believes school is at risk due to "catalogue of errors" by Central Beds Council
Ridgmont Lower School. Screenshot Google Streetview (C)2023 Google Image capture June 2021Ridgmont Lower School. Screenshot Google Streetview (C)2023 Google Image capture June 2021
Ridgmont Lower School. Screenshot Google Streetview (C)2023 Google Image capture June 2021

Closing a Bedfordshire village school will “rip the heart out” of the local community, a meeting heard.

Ridgmont Lower School currently leases the site and buildings from the Duke of Bedford estate.

Low pupil numbers impact on teaching and the delivery of the curriculum, staff numbers and overall financial viability, according to a report to Central Bedfordshire Council’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee.

The likelihood of attracting enough pupils to sustain the school in the long term remains challenging, said the report.

Maria Spearing, who chairs Ridgmont Parish Council, called for a deferral, warning: “The community of Ridgmont and Brogborough believes their village school is in this position because of failings and a catalogue of errors.

“The CBC forward plan gave a negative impression of the school, implying closure was imminent, and pupil numbers dwindled overnight.

“The head and staff were told they couldn’t converse with parents, while the consultation letter was inappropriate and poorly timed just before the summer holidays.

“A ‘have your say’ consultation was a mess, as dates changed at the last minute, and the online event showing zero attendees was arranged for Halloween.”

Headteacher Allison Jakes acknowledged there are only four children at statutory school age on the roll and three children in the nursery, saying: “We would urge you to consider plans to keep the school open with a view to it becoming a primary.”

Jeremy Graham, who chairs the SOS group, suggested the council has “a culpability” around a letter sent to parents last June, without consultation on the wording.

“We can put 25 pupils into that school, as soon as people have certainty around its future,” he confirmed. “The break even point is about 36 pupils, so with the current numbers we’re not far from producing a financially viable school.

“If it shuts, this will rip the heart out of our village. The community is so annoyed. It’s a wonderful school in a fantastic setting. Give us some time and belief and we can make this work.”

Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark added: “The executive forward plan was published in June before any of the stakeholders were informed, making clear the direction of travel was its closure.

“Parents needed to ensure their children had secure places at other schools for the next September. If this school closes it’s gone for good and that would be a tragedy for Ridgmont.”

Independent Biggleswade West councillor Hayley Whitaker thanked the public speakers, explaining: “Officers have tried to broker negotiations with the Duke of Bedford to retain that heart of the community if it no longer remains a school.

“Publishing that plan was a mistake, a wider council error, not children’s services. That was incredibly unfortunate.

“Last Easter, there were 17 children on the school roll. By the time of the letter, there were only four. The dates for the consultation were extended because of the (Parliamentary) by-election.”

Seven councillors agreed the executive considers authorising a statutory notice for a school closure proposal, while further talks are held between officers, the SOS group and school, and the portfolio holder. Four were in favour of reversing this process.

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