'We just want to grow' - campaigners working to save primary school plea for survival
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A 175-year-old school that is under threat of closure has made a call to Hertfordshire County Council to reconsider.
Hexton JMI School, which has capacity for 70 pupils, had just 40 on the school roll at the last Ofsted inspection - leaving pupils and staff facing an uncertain future.
Campaigners, who have been working tirelessly to save the small village school, fear that HCC has already made up its minds, and that their actions may be in vain.
As it stands, the Ofsted rated 'good' institution - which was founded in 1846 - could permanently close at the end of this academic year.
Vice-chairman of governors, Lee Burgess, addressed the council at the latest education, libraries and lifelong learning cabinet panel, stating that "lip service has been paid to any discussions about the future of the school.
"In the 11 months that have passed, we have only had 240 minutes of discussions on a proposal to close a 175-year-old school. And at no time has any support been given to the school.
"It feels like everything has been engineered to produce an outcome, to meet an agenda, to consolidate schools across Hertfordshire."
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He added that prior to October last year, when the idea of closing Hexton JMI first came to light, there had been no concerns regarding the budget or quality of teaching.
Campaigners also claim that decisions made in the past, with the encouragement of HCC, are now being used against them, to support the case for closure.
"Parents love bringing their children to the school," Lee added. "It offers something different to larger village and town schools.
"The local community wants the school to prosper, but, most importantly, children love this school.
"History tells us that we can, and we will, get back to a sustainable level. We just need to be given the time and support to do so."
Labour leader for HCC, and Hitchin North representative, Cllr Judi Billing said: "What I would like to propose is that this school be given all the time it possibly can be given to have its case looked at properly, and not just a hasty decision to close it.
"I know there are economic difficulties with small village schools. There have been since my husband was a county councillor here back in the 1980s - this debate raged then.
"But these are real people, they are our children, they are people we need to be careful about."
David Barnard, councillor for Hitchin Rural - which includes Hexton - declared that Bedfordshire's shift away from a three tier system is having an impact on the junior school, which lies close to the county boundary.
"I should declare that both of my children, one of whom is a district councillor now, attended Hexton School. I am a previous governor from many many years ago, so that's my interest."
He said that when his children, who are now in their 30s, were at the school, only around 60 pupils were enrolled.
"It was run very, very successfully, and it continues to be run very successfully and very professionally."
He added: "I have absolute trust in the governors and a very, very active parents committee, that they will be able to produce the goods and the results that we want.
"I would plea with you to perhaps give them a little bit of time to actually produce the goods. I am so passionate about this, as I know the locals are. And I know that a lot of people from out of town would love to go to that school."
Cllr Chris Lloyd called for any decision or consultation on the fate of the school to be pushed back a year due to the pandemic.
Antony Wallace, campaign group spokesperson, said “This fight is important to the pupils, the parents and governors as well as to the wider Hexton village community, because the school is an attraction to new families looking to live in Hexton or in neighbouring villages.
"It is important to the wider community of small schools, where everybody knows the name of every pupil. We just want to grow.
"All we are asking for is at least three more years in which to enact our plan to increase pupil numbers to a sustainable level, numbers that have been consistently met in the past.
"At least three more years in which to combat the negative impact of the pandemic on the lives of the pupils in our care, many of whom struggle to succeed in larger schools.”
To watch HCC's debate on Hexton JMI's future at the panel, click here.