Hitchin: Hexton village 'dies' if school forced to shut as campaigners ramp up opposition to unpopular plans

By Layth Yousif

11th Oct 2021 | Local News

Hitchin: Hexton village 'dies' if school forced to shut as campaigners ramp up opposition to unpopular plans. PICTURE: Save Hexton JMI School
Hitchin: Hexton village 'dies' if school forced to shut as campaigners ramp up opposition to unpopular plans. PICTURE: Save Hexton JMI School

Opponents of unpopular plans to close a school near Hitchin are set to ramp up their efforts over the coming weeks.

The fight to save Hexton JMI school entered a new phase in the week it marked its 175th birthday.

The last day of September saw the start of a five-week public consultation on the closure of the much-loved learning establishment - which came hard on the heels on more than 400 people signing a petition to help save the school.

Campaigners say it was poignant that, the following day, on Friday, October 1, the school marked its 175th anniversary with a gathering of parents, governors, councillors and Hexton villagers, who have a past relationship with the school.

The 'Save Hexton JMI' working group argues strongly against closure and believe it is an excellent school with a plan for a viable and sustainable future.

As part of the consultation, there will be a public meeting held at St Faith's Church, Hexton on Tuesday, October 12 between 6pm and 8pm, where their arguments will be aired to council members.

Opponents will argue that the North Herts District Council's projections on pupil numbers significantly underestimate future demand.

Campaign spokesperson Antony Wallace said: "At the time the decision was made to move to two classes, in November 2018, the school boasted 55 pupils.

"Since the low point of 27 pupils, in the immediate aftermath of that decision, the school successfully grew back to 43 by December 2020.

"This proves it is possible to grow pupil numbers significantly, back to the numbers the school regularly had on roll just a few years ago - we just need time, and the removal of the threat of closure, to enact our plan."

School of choice

The school's location on the border with North Herts and Central Beds, and proximity to Hitchin and Luton, has meant that, throughout its history, the school has been a 'school of choice' for many who live outside the village.

The school has never relied on children from Hexton alone. Opponents of the plans to shut the school do not believe the council has factored in new housing developments in and around Hexton, mainly in Barton-le-Clay and Shillington, which will also add to future demand.

Mr Wallace added: "The current school leadership is strong and was praised as "impressive" in the 2019 Ofsted report which rated the school 'good' overall, 'good' for quality of teaching and learning, and 'outstanding' for personal development, behaviour & welfare.

[I]"When the report was written the school was organised in two classes as it is today.

"We would not argue that this situation continues indefinitely, because of challenges to teaching and learning, but, we argue that those challenges are currently being met.

"Small rural schools are an 'endangered species' in a world of education where big is often deemed better, with a desire for efficiency and fewer larger schools."

Without the school Hexton village 'dies'

Mr Wallace and fellow campaigners argue that this policy is driven by people who know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

They insist that, because of its size, the school can be extremely flexible - particularly the case when supporting children with additional needs.

"The school provides a genuine alternative to parents wishing their child to experience their education in a small," said Mr Wallace on behalf of the campaign group, adding: "Nurturing, rural school where all children and adults know one another well. It is this, more than anything, that attracts parents from further afield.

"A decent school is an essential part of Britain's best villages. The fight to save Hexton JMI is important to the wider village community, because the school is an attraction to new families looking to live in Hexton or in neighbouring towns and villages.

"Without them, the villages 'dies'.

The council's proposal in the event of closure, is to send Hexton JMI pupils to Pirton school, a solution, opponents insist is undermined by the Pirton headteacher's decision to resign.

As well as the impracticality of this move for many current pupils at Hexton JMI - half of whom live in Central Beds, where the schools don't the capacity to accommodate them.

Determined campaigners also say they will be compiling a robust response to the consultation, presenting a compelling argument for keeping their school open.

Strong support from Hitchin MP Bim Afolami

With the strong support of councillor David Barnard and Bim Afolami MP opponents of closure plans will continue to present their case to the councillors on the Education, Libraries and Lifelong Learning panel to ensure the arguments against closure are heard.

Opponents of the proposed closure would encourage all who feel strongly about the future of their school to complete the online response form at here and make your voice heard.

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