They say a week in politics is a long time and in this case it was true. On the Thursday, 25th May I received a phone call at 4pm in the afternoon from the IWC/Hampshire Local Education Authority telling me as the IW Ward Councillor for Ryde Appley and Elmfield that a school in my ward was named in a report that was being published that day. The report was going to Corporate Scrutiny and Cabinet Committees on the 6th and 8th June respectively. The report was called School Place Planning and listed four primary schools for possible closure by September 2024. One of those schools listed was St. Mary’S RC Primary School on Appley Rise in my ward.
I was horrified as I had no knowledge about the report let alone the threatened closure of the school. I was told over the phone that the school knew and that letters were going out that day to staff and parents the next day just before the bank holiday. I rang the school and they had no knowledge of this and rang back the LEA to tell them. The press published the threatened closure the next day naming the schools, This was the first time most parents and staff knew that their school was under threat. The week panned out as follows:
Day 1 (Thursday 25th May 2023) – I am told by a phone call St. Mary’s is threatened with closure. I make contact with the school. I write initial emails to gather further information.
Day 2 (26th) – The closure is published in the press and I make comment on OnTheWight to state I only knew the day before and how shocked I was and that i would support the school against closure. I did this as a way to make contact with parents as the school was closing for 7 weeks due to half-term holiday. I sent further emails to Leader of Council, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Education, LEA and others stating I was angry how this had been managed and that I as the elected representative had not been consulted in any way. I called for the report to be withdrawn. I accessed the report for the first time on line and was shocked how little information about the schools targeted was included and the information printed was in my view incorrect. I started to get emails from parents and staff. As it was there was little I could do over the bank holiday weekend. I had an angry text exchange with the Cabinet Member for CSandE. Resourceful parents launched a petition immediately – Petition · Save St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Ryde, Isle of Wight · Change.org I signed the petition and printed a comment that parents could contact me and that I fully supported them. All the IW press had stories regarding the threatened closure.
Days 3-5 (bank holiday weekend) – I received emails from parents and staff who were angry, distressed, had no information and just believed the school was going to close the end of the Summer term. I had to reassure them that no decision had been made and a full consultation had to be undertaken. The personal stories were very moving and I was so angry that IWC/LEA had been so cruel to communicate this threatened closure principally through the press during a holiday period when families should be enjoying and relaxing; but how could they when the future of their children was in jeopardy. One of the things not often spoken about is how a local councillor has to share the distress and pain of his/her residents in times of adversity when they are asking for support. Often I feel powerless as I feel that I am not getting responses and answers. I too am hitting a brick wall the same as my residents.
Day 6-7 (30th) – Still responding to emails from staff, governors, and parents. I organise for parents and staff to come to my monthly ward meeting on Thursday 1st June at St. John’s Church. Many emails that day calling for the report to be withdrawn, speaking on phone, contact with the school and LEA. Arranging questions to go to Scrutiny and Cabinet Committee meetings the following week.
Day 8 (1st June) – Still corresponding with parents and calling for the report to be withdrawn. Working closely with Lib Dem group colleagues and agree action with them and working with fellow councillor in Wroxall, Cllr Rodney Downer who is fighting for Wroxall School. I had written a detailed email/letter for the Alliance Administration the previous day as I knew they had a group meeting on the Thursday 1st June at 1pm. In the evening I have face to face meeting with parents, teachers, governors, and unions at St. John’s Church Hall along with Ryde Town Councillor, Tom Hanley and a agree an action plan. Everyone agreed that the first stage of action was to get the report withdrawn by the meeting and get IWC/LEA to rethink their strategy and withdraw St. Mary’s from threat. I wrote a detailed email reporting the meeting to the Leader of the Council and Cabinet calling for the report to be removed. I also text the leader. I receive a text back at 2pm on the 2nd June.
Day 9. I receive an email from Stuart Ashley, Director of Education at 6am that the report was being withdrawn. I receive later in the day a letter from Stuart specifically about St. Mary’s School and explaining action. I responded and wrote further emails calling for a full apology to the school and that this sorry badly planned and written report should not have ever seen the light of day. The press released the news by 7am. Although, there is a mystery how IW Observer was able to get their printed newspaper out that day with a front page story of the report being withdrawn when they go to press Thursday afternoon/evening and I was only told 6am the next day.
There are so many questions to be asked how this happened and how families and I lost the joys we should have had over the May Bank holiday week!
The battle for St. Mary’ School had been won! Many emails from parents and staff. I have posted questions to Scrutiny and Cabinet meetings simply stating this should never have happened and communicating the distress parents and staff unnecessarily went through.
I wish to thank everyone involved especially the school, parents, families, staff and local residents as this was a joint effort. I thank the Leader of the Council and Cabinet in listening and withdrawing the report. I will meet further with parents and school to discuss the future of school so it is strong and secure and thrives. I now need to catch up on all the Ward issues I had to put in my in and outstanding tray due to focus on St. Mary’s.
Email sent to Leader of IW Council on 2nd June.
From: Lilley, Michael
Sent: 02 June 2023 00:12
To: Peacey-Wilcox, Lora (Cllr)
Subject: Threatened Closure of St. Mary’s School – Request for Withdrawal of Report
I am writing to you on behalf of parents, staff and governors of St. Mary’s School and the Liberal Democrat Group on IW Council which I am a member for the withdrawal of the School Place Planning Report as being presented to Full Cabinet on the 8th June 2023.
I had a meeting with parents, governors, union representatives and staff on the 1st June 2023 and had communication with many other parents and the Executive Head of St. Mary’s school. They have asked me to express their complete shock that St. Mary’s has been listed in the report and totally object. Many received no notice of the inclusion of St. Mary’s School in the report which has had a devastating effect on the school, the Catholic and wider community. They were not consulted or forewarned in any way from their perspective that St. Mary’s was at risk.
The report’s figures in regard Ryde Schools are viewed as incorrect and misleading and there is no attached detailed analysis and rationale why St. Mary’s would be targeted. Although no final decision would be made until consultation, the damaging way St. Mary’s School has been targeted for closure is unfair and the sheer suggestion of the school closing has already been devastatingly damaging and put huge stress and worry on parents and staff in a school catchment area of the poorest wards in Ryde and Isle of Wight. Families (parents and staff) already struggling in the severity of the cost-of-living crisis now have the added burden of total insecurity on whether their children will have a school to go to in the future. There needs to be a full investigation in how this report has been handled and the Council and LEA have to take responsibility for the suffering, stress, anguish and worry this action has caused families.
Although, St. Mary’s supports the principle of School Place Planning but were absolutely horrified they were chosen as a targeted school and parents, governors, and staff should not have been informed in this public and totally insensitive way. Parents, who are Catholic, felt they were a targeted minority and discriminated against. They felt strongly their right of choice had already been taken away from them and their human rights violated. They have already started a campaign and have a petition launched Petition · Save St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Ryde, Isle of Wight · Change.org and are already at over 1100. Once they have reached 2500 they will present the petition to your Lora and ask for this to be debated at Full Council. Parents and Staff intend attending next week’s Scrutiny and Cabinet Meetings. Their voices need to be listened to and heard. They have requested that you as leader and the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Education visit the school and see how the school is operating and speak to the children, staff, and parents. They feel the human side of this issue has been insensitively lost.
There seems to be an implication that as St. Mary’s School is close to Oakfield CofE Primary that the schools could be merged and I have no knowledge that Oakfield have been consulted or involved. As the elected IW Councillor for Ryde Appley and Elmfield (where both schools are located) I only became aware of the risk to St. Mary’s School last Thursday afternoon. There seems to have been a secretive and clandestine approach to this whole sorry affair. Many parents have submitted formal complaints.
I believe the only option is for the report to be withdrawn, there is a public apology to St. Mary’s and other Schools listed, and there is a new transparent, fair and open approach in tackling the supposedly school place planning issue.
Cllr Michael Lilley
IW Councillor for Ryde Appley and Elmfield – Member of Liberal Democrats Group
Chair of Policy and Scrutiny Committee for Health and Adult Social Care
IW Council Mental Health Champion