Plans to close Ridgmont school with 4 pupils put on hold

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The council wants to consider alternative options for primary education

Closure plans for a Bedfordshire lower school with four pupils are being deferred, while alternative options are considered for primary education in the surrounding area.

Community efforts to save Ridgmont Lower School will continue, as officers at Central Bedfordshire Council work on developing a model for all lower schools in this part of the Leighton-Linslade cluster.

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That includes the Husborne Crawley, Aspley Guise and Woburn lower schools, as well as Ridgmont, with a view to a consultation in the Autumn about moving from three- to two-tier education, acccording to a report to the local authority’s executive.

Ridgmont Lower SchoolRidgmont Lower School
Ridgmont Lower School

There are only four children at statutory school age on the roll and three children in the nursery, Ridgmont headteacher Allison Jakes told CBC’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee in February.

A subsequent meeting was held between education officers, the council’s deputy leader and Independent Biggleswade West councillor Hayley Whitaker, and the Save our School (SOS) group to review a business case for it to stay open.

Appreciative of the group’s work, it was agreed to defer the publication of the statutory notice. This would be deferred until a potential move from three-tier to two is progressed, said the report.

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“There were 99 responses to an earlier consultation on the future of Ridgmont Lower, with the majority wishing the school remains in the village despite the low pupil numbers.

Ofsted published its inspection outcome of the school in September. The school has elements of ‘good’ in behaviour and attitudes, and personal development, with the overall rating that the school ‘requires improvement’.

“As part of the movement from three- to two-tier, pupil numbers have been reviewed alongside new viability studies. These show the capacity within the cluster schools, including Swallowfield Primary and the four lower schools.

“An options model is being developed to show the demand for school places within the cluster. It doesn’t mean the school cannot close, but that it would be considered as part of the cluster choices.”

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Ridgmont leases the site and buildings from the Duke of Bedford estate, explained the report. As a small rural lower school, it offers 15 places in each year group totalling 75 places from reception to year four.

“The government’s statutory guidance indicates a presumption against the closure of rural schools, stating that the case for closure should be strong and clearly in the best interests of educational provision in the area.

“Within the consultation period, the SOS group presented a signed petition, with a business case and its own surveys completed by the community and a signed petition.

“An overview of the business case proposes the school is given up to four years to improve the number on roll, as well as the governance and leadership.

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“While the extra pupils in the SOS forecast would support the school financially, the envisaged numbers on roll are unlikely to reduce the deficit within the time period of the proposed recovery plan.”