A 175-year-old school rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted is set to close, meaning 30 children will have to attend a new school two-and-a-half miles away.
Christ Church Infant School in Virginia Water is said to be no longer financially viable because of declining numbers on its roll and will shut at the end of summer term next year.
It will join up with Englefield Green Infant School and Nurseries, with a new school for 60 youngsters aged between two and seven. It will open on September 1 on the Englefield Green site.
Chertsey families currently travelling four miles to Virginia Water said their journey would increase to six or seven miles.
Surrey County Council (SCC) leader Tim Oliver, who approved the decision on Tuesday (November 10), said: “I am aware that certainly for parents at Christ Church this has not been a particularly popular decision.
“It is a great shame when you see a successful school being closed, but sadly that’s for reasons outside of the control of the county council.
“I think the provision that’s being made now for opening a new school next year will be excellent.”
There is a surplus of places at both schools, meaning a reduced budget and the introduction of mixed-age classes.
Combined maximum admission numbers are to be reduced by a third to make the new school sustainable.
‘We are understandably disappointed’
Reverend Jeremy Brown and Alison Edgar, co-chairs of governors at Christ Church, said in a letter to Mr Oliver they thought the creation of a new infant school was “the only realistic way forward to retain the vision and ethos of Christ Church”.
They continued: “Financially the school is unable to continue as the present school funding formula makes small schools financially unviable, especially those attracting special education needs such as ours.
“We are understandably disappointed that a much-loved village school with a good Ofsted report and a 175-year history is being forced to close.”
Parent Emily Cousins-West started a petition earlier in the year against closure, which has been signed by around 390 people.
She said: “This school really makes you feel like family. The school know each and every child and the parents.”
Mum Olivia Zenonos said all her children had attended the “lovely little school”.
She added: “My daughter had selective mute. She wouldn’t even speak to my own father, her grandfather. Within three months of her being at this school she stood up in front of all the school and parents at her assembly and spoke.”
The new Church of England infant school will feed directly into St Jude’s C of E Junior School, with potential for a more formal partnership in the future.
Mr Oliver was told any change in admission criteria would not happen until September 2023 at the earliest and would need to follow a full consultation.
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In the council’s consultation, some residents said they thought it was a short-sighted move.
But Liz Mills, director of education, lifelong learning and culture at SCC, said pupil numbers were not expected to increase in Virginia Water and Englefield Green.
Her report found fewer than 10 pupils attending Christ Church had a postcode in the local area.
Michelle McNamee, head teacher at Englefield Green Infant School and Nurseries, and Vicki Chiverton, head teacher at St Jude’s Junior School, were appointed as joint heads at Christ Church this year.
In a joint statement, they said: “The leadership teams have been working closely with the local authority and the diocese to reach this point and will continue to do so throughout the coming months.
“We are fully committed to moving forwards with the plans for the new school, which we believe is in the best interests of the local community.
“We will ensure that over the rest of the year the two schools collaborate in joint celebrations in order to bring the two school communities together, Covid permitting.”
The Diocese of Guildford also welcomed the decision. Alex Tear, diocesan director of education, said: “Christ Church Infants has a long history and a special place within our family of diocesan schools.
“The strong link between the school and the local parish church will continue when the new voluntary-aided school opens in September 2021 and the local church will continue to work closely with the school through the appointment of governors and support for worship and assemblies.”
Owners of the Christ Church school building and land include SCC and diocesan site trustees. SCC said there were no current proposals for its future use.