Uncertainty over status of school cluster in Central Bedfordshire labelled "a killer"

File photo of children in a classroomFile photo of children in a classroom
File photo of children in a classroom
Council’s deputy leader said previous models on switch to two-tier system ‘may not stand up now’

Uncertainty around the future status of a cluster of four Central Bedfordshire lower schools is “a killer”, a meeting heard.

Aspley Guise, Husborne Crawley, Ridgmont and Woburn lower schools were to transition to primary, but were unable to proceed because of site constraints.

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Parents and residents were asked their views on its future during a consultation process. A Save Our School group was formed locally and a business case compiled, with a four-year recovery plan to keep it open.

Group member Debbie Whiting told CBC’s executive: “We hope to forge forward with the council and the school to get the best outcomes for the pupils for all four local communities.

“The group is working closely with the school to make it welcoming,” she said. “It’s sadly a little neglected. With the stay of execution, we’ll aim to get more children into the school, so those financial deficits are as small as possible.”

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Maria Spearing, who chairs Ridgmont Parish Council, suggested: “The school deserves a chance. A survey showed families wish to return there. It could become a half form entry primary.”

But Husborne Crawley governor Jenny Birch referred to being “here to support the closure because of the impact it’s having on our school”, adding: “We’re talking about closures again in our area.

“Those funds Ridgmont will use up could be more beneficial for moving towards a two-tier schooling model, which we fully support. The four pupils are being taught at a cost of £40,000 a year each, with no realistic chance of that changing soon.”

Executive member for families, education and children and Independent Biggleswade West councillor Hayley Whitaker replied: “There’s a desire within that (Leighton-Linslade) cluster of schools to switch to two-tier education, sooner rather than later.

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“It made more sense to halt a current consultation on Ridgmont and consider the wider picture. It’s not been speedy.

“But the landscape has changed considerably over pupil numbers and what’s needed for that transition. Previous models may not stand up now.

“It’s around six months to redo the modelling and return with some proposals for consultation. I agree the uncertainty is a killer for our schools.”

Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark said: “This is a deferral and the uncertainty still exists for Ridgmont, so that remains difficult.

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“But the school, the SOS group and I are determined to make best use of this available time to produce a viable and sustainable solution to secure its long-term future.”

Independent Aspley Guise and Woburn councillor John Baker explained: “This process has been going on since 2019 five years. While the council halted its plans to convert the lower schools in 2020, the stigma has remained since.

“It’s had a detrimental impact on all these schools and the public confidence in their staying open. This process has to focus on educational outcomes. That’s the most important point.

“The speediest possible report to scrutiny is required. The schools need certainty and the decision.”