Saved by the bell

https://wintertononsea.co.ukBRILLIANT blue skies and beaming faces greeted pupils as they arrived at Winterton Primary School to be told it had almost certainly been saved.

A special assembly followed the announcement yesterday that the Consortium Multi Academy Trust had voted to go ahead with moves to take the school into its family.

Head teacher Martin White, told the children and parents: “This is the first time we have had an assembly in the hall this year and it is a very special occasion.

“The really good news this morning is that it looks really, really likely – almost certain – that the school isn’t going to close at the end of December.”

He introduced the children to CMAT principal Andrew Aalders-Dunthorne (pictured) who explained to them: “It will become part of my family of schools.”

As well as attracting more pupils, the trust hopes to develop the site as an outdoor education resource for all its schools, taking advantage of the coastal location and the dunes.

The children’s eyes grew wider as he outlined the activities they could expect to enjoy, including fencing, archery, target shooting and residential trips.

They would be expected to work hard on their reading, writing and maths, but there would also be an enriching opportunity for all.

He promised: “We will work really hard to make sure that your school continues to be a really fantastic school.”

Mr White paid tribute to the principal for being a part of the rescue of the school. After the assembly he told us: “It has been like a rollercoaster, but I am sure the school has a great future.”

A veteran of four decades in teaching, he came out of retirement to take over the reins at Winterton in January. He said he would stay until a solution was found and then retire again.

He admitted that although he tried not to get too emotionally involved he would miss it. “The children and staff were welcoming from the moment I set foot in the building.”

The village itself also had a special place in his heart. “I’ve lived in Norfolk for a long while and this is where we go to the seaside.”

Mr Aalders-Dunthorne said he made it a policy to always respond positively to an approach from a small school in trouble.

But he set out on his first visit prepared to say his trust was probably not the solution because the school was too small and too far away from his organisation’s Suffolk base. 

Then he saw the location, the space in the building and realised the potential -particularly for a field studies centre - that could make it a valuable resource for the trust as a whole. “That was the clincher,” he said.

Support from the village was also a key factor. “Here the passion of the local community was marked compared to some other schools that I have been to.”

They were convinced the school had a future if someone was prepared to give it a chance.

He explained the trust ran residential courses for all pupils from year one upwards and it would save on costs if they could be sent to Winterton. There was a need for that kind of facility, especially as both Norfolk and Suffolk county councils were closing education centres.

News that the school is set to become part of CMAT has also piqued the interest of three other primary schools in the area and they are now talking to Mr Aalders-Dunthorne.

When the proposed closure was announced earlier this year, a Save Winterton School campaign was set up under the chairmanship of local businessman Gino Farace.

The group fought hard and when the chairman of the school’s interim executive board urged people to go out and find a saviour, they took up the challenge.

One of the 42 academies approached by parent Matt Nichols was CMAT. He said: “It is absolutely amazing. You couldn’t ask for a better result or a better academy trust.”

“We as a committee never gave up. We would have fought it until they locked the doors,” he said. “Everyone on the committee has put time into it.”

He said he and his wife didn’t tell their young son Freddie about the closure plan, although they checked out nearby schools just in case the worst happened.

Luckily Freddie’s best friend from nursery was one of the 21 pupils who returned to the school at the start of the new term.

More pupils had joined since then and hopes were high the number on roll would be boosted as more people heard about the trust’s plans for the school.

“With what they are looking to offer, I think it is going to be the best primary school in the area,” said Matt.

A formal consultation and conversion process has started and outstanding issues, including the need for planning permission to use the site as a residential and field study centre as well as a school, will be dealt with.

If all goes smoothly the date for conversion will be set for New Year’s Day.

The consultation documents and questionnaire can be seen on the school’s website winterton.norfolk.sch.uk under letters.

winterton-on-sea