Could council scupper Rydon academy bid?

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West Sussex County Council has hinted it could scupper Rydon Community College’s bid to become an academy.

Around 60 parents and members of the public gathered at Thakeham School on Tuesday (January 12) as part of the second stage of consultation into the reorganisation of education in the Storrington area.

The proposals include closing Rydon and using the site to house both Thakeham School and a satellite campus of Steyning Grammar School.

During the meeting, Jay Mercer, the county council’s interim director of education and skills, was asked what would happen to the proposals should Rydon be successful in its bid to take itself out of local authority control by becoming an academy.

Mr Mercer said: “The local authority needs to be formally notified that the application has been made. I’m not aware that has happened yet.

“Depending on what the outcome of the consultations are and what recommendations are being made will depend on how the local authority responds to that application.

“We might say we’re being supportive of that or we will go back to the regional schools commissioners with a strong reason why the application should not happen.”

Chaired by John Rimmer, deputy lieutenant for West Sussex, the meeting saw questions asked of Mr Mercer and Graham Olway, the council’s principal manager for capital planning and projects.

Some parents were concerned that, should the proposals go ahead, children as young as four would be mixing with teenagers at break time.

Mr Olway responded: “There will be a very clear separation. I’m not talking about the Berlin Wall but there will be very clear division.”

Others asked how the transition from Thakeham’s current site to Rydon would work and whether the money raised from the sale of the current site could be pumped back into the reorganisation scheme.

Mr Olway assured parents the children would not move until any necessary building work was complete; he added any decision about the redirection of funds would be down to the council’s finance director and Councillor Richard Burrett, cabinet member for education and skills.

The reorganisation was proposed to bring the STARS schools, as they are known, into line with the rest of the county, meaning children would make one transition from primary to secondary school rather than their current two from infants to middle to secondary.

The second consultation will end at midnight on February 12 and a final decision will be made by Mr Burrett in June. Any changes will come into effect from September 2017.

Responding to claims from some members of the public that the council had already made up its mind, Mr Burrett described how a similar consultation in Crawley had resulted in large changes to the original proposals. He said: “This is not a done deal. We’re not just going through the motions. That’s not how I work and that’s not how we work as a county council.”

A second public meeting was held at Rydon last night (Wednesday).

Two more are planned for January 20 at Steyning Grammar School, from 6-7.30pm, and January 26 at Ashington First School, from 6-7.30pm.

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