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Update on Okeford Fitzpaine Public Consultation

Dear stakeholders,

The executive team at SAST wanted to provide the community with a formal update on the outcome of the consultation surrounding the merger of Okeford Fitzpaine CE Primary and Shillingstone CE Primary.

The public consultation ran from 16th June to the 14th July, which is a full four-week period.

The consultation was publicised via direct communication with staff, students, and parents at both Okeford Fitzpaine and Shillingstone schools, and engaged with the wider community via the SAST and school websites. The Trust also wrote to Dorset Council, Salisbury Diocese, Okeford Parish Council, and the local MP for their commentary.

On the 6th July there was a public open event held at Okeford Fitzpaine CE Primary to discuss the proposal. There were around 35 people in attendance, including a mixture of staff, parents, and representatives from the local community.

In total, the consultation received 23 formal responses, of those:

·       5 were from current parents of Okeford or Shillingstone pupils

·       2 were from current members of school staff

·       3 were from former members of staff, or parents of ex-pupils

·       1 was from a former Okeford pupil

·       4 were from serving or former local governors or SAST Trustees

·       5 were from members of the local community

·       1 was from the National Education Union

·       1 was from Salisbury Diocesan Board of Education

·       1 was from a Shillingstone Parish Councillor

Of the 23 responses: 10 were in support, 7 were against, and 6 were neither for nor against the proposal. Below is the summary of the key themes raised, both for and against the merger, along with the Trust’s formal response.

 

Feedback in support of the merger

1.     The merger would offer Okeford pupils the opportunity of high-quality and well-rounded education, with better preparation for moving up to Secondary School.

2.     Merging the schools will create a more financially viable model and allow the funds to be reinvested into high-quality educational staff and resources.

3.     The merger would address the inequality of access to education for all children, present and future, that best meets their needs. Pupils’ wellbeing and flourishing would be enhanced via socialising with children of the same age, in addition to improvements in staff wellbeing and professional development.

4.     The school is not supported well by the local community, and many parents have already chosen to move their children to alternative schools where they have had the opportunity to do so.

 

Feedback against the merger:

1.     Dorset Council has a plan to build new homes within Okeford Fitzpaine. Will there be enough school places to accommodate an increase in primary school-aged children?

Shillingstone CE Primary was built in 2012 with the original intention of growing to accept children from the parish of Okeford Fitzpaine. The site and building can be expanded to potentially become a one-form entry school, with a class of 30 children in each year group. SAST will continue to work with Dorset Council to ensure that there are sufficient school places available within the locality.

2.     There are concerns around the safety of transport links between the two parishes with no suitable path for walking or cycling.

SAST has made a commitment to provide transport for the Okeford students on a temporary basis but will continue to work alongside Dorset Council to ensure that families continue to receive suitable transport arrangements. The Trust has no control over public roads but will open a dialogue with the council with regards to options to improve road safety.

3.     Is the teaching space at Shillingstone CE Primary suitable and does the building have the required physical capacity?

Some commentary has been made regarding the atrium space that is being converted into a classroom at Shillingstone. Okeford pupils will not be kept separate from Shillingstone pupils, and they will all join their respective, age-appropriate, classes. There is a need to create an additional teaching space for pupils in Years 5/6 and this will be in the schools’ large open-plan atrium. SAST feels that this is a suitable and appropriate teaching space, and many classrooms today are designed to be open plan. Work will be undertaken over the summer to ensure that the space is configured in the most conducive manner possible.

4.     Will the merger ensure adequate staff and infrastructure to manage the high proportion of children with SEND provision at Okeford? Will there be the appropriate numbers and levels of specialists, Teachers, and Teaching Assistants?

Shillingstone CE Primary also has a high number of SEND pupils and offers an excellent provision via the deployment of specialist trained teachers and higher-level teaching assistants. The Trust is committed to providing high-quality SEND provision and has recently employed two Directors of Inclusion who will directly support all SAST schools in improving their support for SEND children.

5.     Losing the school will have a negative impact on the village. A primary school is an essential part of a small community.

This is regrettable and we understand the concerns of the local community. However, a significant change such as this, wouldn’t be proposed unless the SAST leadership team was certain that it was in the best interest of the children. Many local parents have already taken the decision to send their children to alternative local schools.

6.     Having to change schools will be unsettling for the current Okeford pupils.

Okeford pupils have already visited the school and had a transition day to support their move to Shillingstone for the autumn term. By being in larger classes we hope that it will give Okeford pupils more opportunities for social interaction and allow them to have larger circles of friends. Shillingstone is a very friendly and welcoming environment, and we know the staff there will do everything they can to support pupils.

The Trust intends to submit a business case for merger to the Department for Education during the Autumn Term 2022 and once a decision is made, the team will look to update everyone as soon as possible. Copies of all public consultation responses will be shared with the DfE, as part of the process.

 

Yours sincerely

Colin Sinclair

CEO, SAST

 

 

 

 

 

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