Battersea primary doomed because of falling numbers, say governors as closure is rubber-stamped

By Charlotte Lillywhite, Local Democracy Reporter

A primary school is set to close due to falling pupil numbers, despite more than 3,200 people signing a petition against the plans.

Christ Church C of E Primary School, which opened in Battersea in 1866, is due to close in August after Wandsworth council approved the proposal.

Governors at Christ Church, in Batten Street, proposed in November to close the school at the end of the academic year after a sharp decline in pupils since 2018 led to reduced funding.

Only 12 pupils joined reception in September, compared to nine pupils in the previous year, despite the school being able to admit 30 reception-aged children every year. The school had 115 empty places as of November, out of a total capacity of 210 across all year groups.

A petition against the proposals, launched in December, has gained 3,216 signatures. But a report by council officers said the petition contained ‘many inaccuracies’ as it was created before pre-consultation documents on the proposals were published.

It added: “Governors appreciate that any proposal for school closure is a difficult one which may not be supported by the wider community, however it was also noted that many of the responses to the petition were from people not affected by the closure of the school.”

The council’s children’s committee discussed the proposed closure on April 18. Rosemarie Davidson-Gotobed, chairwoman of governors at Christ Church, said the school was not able to balance its budget in the 2023/24 financial year for the first time in its history.

It faces a deficit of £90,564 in 2023/24 due to cuts in funding squeezing its budget, which will be covered by spending most of its reserves. It predicts its overall deficit will grow to £446,508 by 2025/26 if it remains open.

Ms Davidson-Gotobed said: “No one is here because they wanted to close the school and we’re not here because there is an issue with the school’s leadership.

“We’ve been blessed with sterling leadership above and beyond but the basic fact is that the impact of falling school rolls has made a huge dent in our school this year and governors weren’t able to set a balanced budget, with fewer pupils joining the school in reception than there were leaving at the end of Year 6.”

She added: “Our vision is to ensure that the pupils receive the highest-quality education and the governors and I feel that children will thrive in their new schools.”

Pia Longman, assistant director at Southwark Diocesan Board of Education, which supports the school, said the board has seen a drop of almost 2,500 pupils in the schools it supports in 12 London boroughs.

She said: “I think it’s important to take that into context when governors are talking about the decision they made – there didn’t seem to be a chance that numbers would increase.”

The committee unanimously approved the proposed closure. Conservative councillor Matthew Corner said: “No one wants to close schools – we want the opposite, we want thriving schools. But the rationale in this paper and as set out so eloquently by the governors is clear.”

The council’s executive will make a final decision on the proposed closure on April 22.

If it approves the plans, the council’s pupil services team will carry out a separate admissions process to allow families of affected pupils to apply for other local schools.

Pictured top: Christ Church C Of E Primary School, in Batten Street, Battersea (Picture: Google Street Views)

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