Review could save Shelton Lower School from closure

The Little Laurels could close in October. File picture.
The Little Laurels could close in October. File picture.

Procedures followed by a local authority to close a village school are set to be independently reviewed.

Shelton Lower School is due to shut its gates for the final time on August 31 next year.

The school can cater for up to 75 pupils, but Central Beds Council forecast the number on the roll next month to be 29 or 40 per cent of its capacity.

Campaigners fought the closure plan, and had until September 5 to contact the school’s adjudicator if they were disatisfied with the way the decision was reached.

That option has now been taken up, a meeting of the council’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee heard.

Committee members were thanked for their recent support.

Conservative Stotfold and Langford councillor Steve Dixon said at Tuesday’s meeting: “Unfortunately for the closure of Shelton Lower School, our worst expectations of 29 were unfounded. It’s gone down to 25.

“The trustee of the Marston Vale Trust has called the decision in, by this authority, to the school’s adjudicator … one of two options he has.

“He’s unhappy with the process we followed, and that’s been referred to the school’s adjudicator,” explained councillor Dixon, executive member for families, education and children.“There’s a two-month likely turnaround time as to whether we followed the right processes.”

Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Robert Morris said he was the only trustee and submitted the appeal.

“It’s now in the hands of the schools adjudicator,” he explained. “Hopefully there will be a positive outcome for the school.

“The adjudicator can cancel the closure. That does not stop the council applying for closure another time.

“Even if the council applied straight away it would add another year to the school.

“If it stays open there would be some comments from the schools adjudicator saying why.”

“The council would have to address them, if it wanted to carry on down the path of closure.

“We feel we have a good case against the closure of the school. I would not have gone down the appeal route if I thought there wasn’t a strong case.

“it would be unfair on the school if I thought it was only a small case,” he added.

“This process is not common at all. I can’t find any appeal decision on any appeal against the closure of a school.

“There’s very little information available about the process. The appeal is a large document containing all our arguments to be on the safe side.

“The appeal was handed into the council, which has to forward it to the schools adjudicator within seven days.

“There is statutory guidance on the closure of rural schools. Finanical reasons or the numbers on the school roll aren’t in themselves enough to close a school.”

Councillor Morris said the threat of closure has contributed probably to the lower figure on the school roll this year.

“It’s the unfortunate part of the process,” he said. “It’s nobody’s fault where a school closure is likely to happen.

“Parents look at what they consider is best for their children. They go on the idea the school is definitely closing without knowledge of how these things work.”

Although the school is rated good by Ofsted, it has not been full for a number of years.

Following last month’s decision by the council’s executive to adopt a closure plan for Shelton Lower School, campaigners said they were considering an appeal.

Councillor Dixon told the executive, at the time, that he has had “sleepless nights” over the decision.

Once an adjudicator’s decision has been made it is final and binding on all parties, according to the Office of the School’s Adjudicator section of the government website.

There is no appeals process. The verdict can only be challenged by applying to the High Court for Judicial Review.

Appeals must be made within three months of the decision date.