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School reveals plans to merge Hailsham academies

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PARENTS of students at the Burfield Academy have been told of plans to close the school and merge with nearby Phoenix Academy permanently.

A letter was sent out last week notifying parents of a consultation period, inviting parents to have their say about the move, which will see the school in Oaklands Way redundant if plans are implemented.

The school applied to East Sussex County Council to withdraw a planning condition of supplying a ‘kiss and drop’ area for parents as it says the current area is unsafe for children, due to ‘untrained staff, safeguarding concerns and failures in the design’.

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Councillors refused the application in March and no appeal has been lodged by the trust.

The letter recently sent to parents said: “Clearly, STEP cannot, in good conscious and with the safety of pupils, parents and the public paramount, return to the site at Oaklands Way. STEP has not rushed to the conclusion that Burfield and Phoenix should be amalgamated. This circumstance has arisen through situations entirely outside the control of STEP – the Trust inherited the site and had no part in any design specification for the building or indeed the ‘kiss and drop’ function. It was planned that Burfield would return to the site, however, as stated that is simply not possible.”

Parents are being told to submit their feedback to the school by 24th May. The letter also said: “Whilst the only alternative to the amalgamation is the unpalatable full closure of Burfield Academy, it is important that both we and the Department for Education understand how this change will be perceived by stakeholders.  When applying to the Department for Education to amalgamate Burfield and Phoenix, we will therefore share data around whether stakeholders are supportive of the merger. The DfE will carefully consider the circumstances and then make the final decision about whether the academies can amalgamate ready for September.”

In an East Sussex County Full Council meeting this week (7 May), Councillor Steve Murphy asked Councillor Bob Standley (Lead Member for Education and Inclusion, Special Educational Needs and Disability): “STEP Academy Trust in Hailsham has recently abruptly announced that it will be merging two primary schools in the town, that being Burfield and Phoenix Academies and emerging them on to one site in September of this year. STEP has published a statement outlining the proposed consultation to the program. 

He added: “It states that 29th April, 2024, the consultation period begins; 1st September, 2024 new amalgamated school opens. Would Councillor Standley agree with me that this consultation is a ‘sham’ as the outcome has already been predetermined?”

Councillor Standley replied: “This is of course is a consultation by STEP, not by this Council. I don’t think it’s a ‘sham’, obviously, STEP have a view. I do think it was disingenuous of STEP to suggest it was our planning committee insisting on the ‘kiss and drop’ facility, but made it not available as a school – I think that was slightly strange. The fact that they issued a letter within hours of the planning decision seems to me that they had already prearranged that. 

I would say to members of the public and parents, please write into the consultation, It’s not a ‘sham’, it will be listened to and it will be listened to by DFE. I think that the timetable is incredibly challenging, I would be surprised if DFE will work that quickly, because the consultation has to go to the regional School Commissioner and then has to go to the DFE, or possibly Secretary of State. I think to get that done by the end of the Summer, or the beginning of the summer holidays, is going to be a challenge.”

Parents of Burfield and Phoenix met with some of the Executive Team at STEP on 8th & 9th May where a reader told Hailsham News that it was made clear that parents do not support the merge. 

Parent Hannah Owherho told us: “Marshfoot Lane site cannot cope with the number of students it currently has, over 300, and the move to Marshfoot Lane was only agreed to as a temporary measure. Many parents are forced to drive to Marshfoot Lane who were walking to school at Oaklands Way.  The congestion around Marshfoot Lane at collection and drop off time is terrible as it includes construction traffic for the new houses being built at the bottom of Marshfoot Lane. 

The parents feel STEP has not done enough to challenge ESCC on the parking issue at Oaklands Way and has not considered the impact on Hailsham if a primary school were to close. Burfield is not a failing school or under special measures, it is a thriving and successful place of education. Parents fully support the staff and Headmistress of Burfield, but have been let down by the STEP executive team.”

East Sussex County Councillor for Hailsham New Town, Gerard Fox who has been liaising with parents and nearby residents said: “I continue to find the school position perplexing. They are not confident enough in their Burfield position to appeal the planning committee decision. The chair of East Sussex County Council Planning invited them to come back with a better plan. They’ve ignored my offer to help them do that.  Regardless, if they want to merge the two schools permanently on the Phoenix site, I would argue that they need to develop a new more elaborate travel plan.”

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