Parents fight to keep Brackley school open as councillors vote to 'pause' closure until they have more details
Brackley town councillors have voted on a motion to pause the closure of a much-loved school until all information is provided by West Northamptonshire Council (WNC), the Department of Education (DfE) and school trustees.
Upset parents attended an extraordinary town council meeting in Brackley, on Friday, October 13, to discuss the future of Southfield Primary Academy. The trustees of the school previously decided there was not enough demand for places and that it was no longer viable to remain open, which was announced on October 6.
As of September this year, the school had 129 pupils enrolled but had the capacity for up to 428. Family members were able to voice their frustrations with the unexpected closure, and also share fond memories of the school and staff at the council meeting.
Lucy Conroy, a mother of two children at Southfield, said: “My child was not coping at the last school. She was very miserable, and in one year she went from just about meeting standards to exceeding it. My youngest is in year three and she absolutely cried her eyes out when she found out about this. I’ve experienced several schools and I have to say that I think this one is by far the best.”
The children will be relocated at the end of the academic year to other primary schools in the area. The council have said that admissions teams are committed to keeping children in sibling and friendship groups where possible.
Nicola Peel-Yates, another parent at the school, said: “This is going to affect every other school in Brackley. The class sizes are just going to get bigger – so all the children are going to suffer. The Southfield children are so emotional. If you could see them walk around at the moment they’re all holding hands, they’re cuddling, they’re getting through this together.”
The chair of trustees for Southfield, Christopher Watt, added that the reason for the closure was issues with debt that began years ago. He said: “The bottom line is since January 2022 the DfE has put in an immense amount of additional funding just to keep the school open. In an ideal world, we would redevelop the site, but actually, it’s financially unviable.”
A recently retired head teacher of a Northamptonshire special school, Caroline Grant, questioned why reception children, some with special needs, were admitted to the school this year when they knew it wasn’t viable.
She also asked why, knowing that there is a lack of SEND provision and a growing need for such, was “extending the remit of Southfield to include a specialist provision” not explored.
Councillor Fiona Baker, representative of Brackley West and cabinet member for children and education at WNC, said that they have looked at a number of different ways over the years to “save the school”, including increasing the SEND department, but that none had been taken up by the DfE.
Brackley town councillors echoed concerns that, like the parents, they had been given no new information previous to the closure statement, despite MP for South Northamptonshire, Andrea Leadsom, suggesting that the DfE were talking about shutting the school as early as 2019.
She said the DfE kept the school open for “considerably longer than it intended to”, at her and West Northants councillors’ request.
Councillor Luke Young, who represents Brackley North, proposed an amendment at the meeting so that “the process is paused until all the information is provided by WNC, DfE and trustees about the closure of Southfield school”.
Town councillors voted in favour of this and will be contacting the relevant organisations.