I spent the weekend reviewing paperwork relating to several consultations and considering a decision that needed to be made about the future of Rydon Community College.
Some of you will be aware that we have proposed to close Rydon Community College and open a second site of Steyning Grammar School for Year 7 and 8 pupils in September 2017. We’d do this in part of the current Rydon Community College Campus in Rock Road, Storrington.
The proposal marks the final stage of a reorganisation of schools in Storrington and the surrounding areas – or the STARS area, as it is known locally – to bring it in line with the rest of the county and indeed the country.
The area is the last remaining place in West Sussex where schools are not organised in line with the Key Stages of the National Curriculum.
Children who attend schools in this area go on to secondary education at the age of 10 rather than 11. Elsewhere pupils transfer to secondary schools at the end of Key Stage 2 (11 years old). That means that crucial blocks of learning – the Key Stages – are disrupted by pupils having to change schools. Something which we know puts children at a disadvantage.
We’ve already taken the decision to move Year 6 to First Schools, therefore creating Primary Schools, and to relocate Thakeham Primary School to the Rydon site.
However, a final decision on whether to close Rydon still needed to be made.
This is a decision I was not expecting to take as it would normally fall to the Cabinet Member for Education. But due to his illness, under the Council’s constitution, the decision falls to me.
As you might expect, as Leader of the Council I have regular briefings on issues affecting all areas of the Council’s business and I always discuss key decisions such as this with the relevant Cabinet Member.
I have been very involved in this process and have spoken at length to the Cabinet Member for Education many times for his valuable input.
I have also looked very carefully at all the information which has been submitted, not just during this formal representation period, but also throughout the whole consultation period, which has spanned the last 18 months.
I have considered all the views and opinions put forward and I still strongly believe that our proposals will offer the best future education system for young people in Storrington and the surrounding areas.
It is for this reason that I am endorsing the proposal and, therefore, Rydon Community College will close with effect from 31 August 2017.
I accept that Rydon is much loved by many people in the community and there are really strong feelings and many people will be very disappointed by the news.
That is why I personally went on Monday to meet with the headteacher and governors at Rydon, together with our Chief Executive, Nathan Elvery. It was important to me that I was able to explain in person why we will now be taking forward our proposal to close the school.
I do need to make it clear that although the decision is to close Rydon, there will still be secondary education available for pupils in Storrington. And, as over 80 per cent of the students currently at Rydon go onto Steyning Grammar School, for many there will be no significant change.
So why was this necessary?
Others may ask why not defer the decision until the Cabinet Member for Education is back and that is a fair challenge. However, I believe that this would only provide an unnecessary level of uncertainty and that is certainly not fair to the children.
I have every confidence that this is the right model to be adopting and it will help give children in the area the best start in life.
However I need to reassure everyone that the County Council will be supporting the school and pupils over the next year as the transition takes place. We have written to parents and to pupils explaining the changes and setting out what happens next.
Now is the time to look to the future not the past and I absolutely believe this reorganisation will offer an improved education, not only to current pupils but also to future generations.