Greater Manchester school placed in special measures by Ofsted is set to close down

It looks set to close its doors during the academic year of 2023-24.
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A school that was branded ‘inadequate’ and placed in special measures earlier this year now plans to close down.

St Mary’s RC Primary School, in Heaton Norris, Stockport, was given the lowest possible rating by Ofsted following a visit in January. Inspectors said pupils at the Roman Road school did not achieve well, were uninspired by the curriculum and had to learn in an environment that was ‘tired, cluttered and scruffy’.

Having been rated as Inadequate, the school is required to become an academy – meaning it would receive money directly from the government and be run by a trust. But the Diocese of Salford says it does not want to absorb the school into its trust, believing it to be ‘unviable’ due to falling pupil numbers and the associated loss of funding.

A voluntary-aided school –  meaning the diocese contributes to building costs and has significant influence in how it is run. A council report says St Mary’s is forecasting a deficit of £50,000 by the end of 2022/23, rising to £180k by the close of the 2024/25 financial year.

A letter from the diocese to Tim Bowman, the council’s director of education reads: “As you know, the school is in a vulnerable position in that the number of Catholic families choosing the school has declined over a long period of time.”

It notes that, should current trends continue, there would only be around 70 pupils on the roll, despite a capacity of 168. The number of Catholic children, now standing at 23pc, is forecast to drop further.

“Consequently, the diocese believes that the long-term viability of the school is now within our Catholic Academy Trust that covers Stockport,” it adds.

The diocese says the council has ‘joint responsibility’ for resolving the future of the school and would need to propose the closure in order to lead the necessary ‘stages and processes’ to achieve this.

St Marys RC Primary, Roman Road, Heaton Norris. Credit: Google Street ViewSt Marys RC Primary, Roman Road, Heaton Norris. Credit: Google Street View
St Marys RC Primary, Roman Road, Heaton Norris. Credit: Google Street View

Turning to more immediate concerns, the letter adds: “With the local authority, the diocese will continue to support the school governors to very quickly improve standards in the school so that pupils currently enrolled have the very best learning experience.”

A council report says that the closure of the school would not result in a shortage of places as neighbouring Reddish has spare capacity of above 20%.

But it adds that the ‘risk of compromised education opportunity’ and potential financial issues dictate that the school should close as quickly as possible – pending the outcome of a consultation.

“Subject to consultation and further statutory process it is proposed that the school closure be managed during academic year 2023/24,” it adds.

“Through a managed transfer process, parents and carers of children at St Mary’s RC Primary School would be able to express a preference for a place at an alternative school.

“The admissions process would be coordinated meaning that all applications are considered and processed at the same time.”

At a meeting of the council’s children’s and family scrutiny committee heard that the school had made representations to the effect its financial position had recently improved.

Mr Bowman said that the £180k deficit was the council’s ‘best estimate’ of where the school’s financial position would be in three years time – but committed to ‘look again’ ahead of producing an updated report.

He also praised the school for doing doing an ‘excellent job of managing a very difficult budget’.

The council’s cabinet is expected to start the ball rolling for the school’s closure when it meets next month.

A consultation will then be held between December and January, with a statutory proposal being published in February.

It will return to cabinet for a final decision in March 2023.

Stockport Council children and families scrutiny committee met at the town hall on Wednesday night November 23.