Headlines: February 4th, 2008

Two local education authorities are being warned they will face a detailed challenge from the Church of England over any future plans to close village schools. Both Shropshire and Herefordshire County Councils have postponed plans, which would have seen the closure of almost 40 rural schools and which led to strong local protests.

Herefordshire council said a further review was needed but it intends to prepare new proposals for September. Shropshire has given no date for revised plans but has acknowledged that more time is needed for consultation. Now the Anglican Dioceses of Hereford and Lichfield, which between them cover both counties, have revealed plans to use that period to prepare its own plans for the shape of education in the areas.

The Hereford Diocese has plans for headteachers and chairs of governing bodies from Church schools in both counties to meet on a monthly basis and to have discussions with local communities to draw up their own plans. “We want to ensure there is a substantial Diocesan contribution to the consultative process promised by Herefordshire’s Chief Executive,”said Dr Ian Terry, the Director of education for the Diocese. “While we have always accepted that some schools must close, a longer time for consideration of which ones based on criteria we all agree upon will be much more positive,” he added. The Diocese has also insisted that the outcome of the continuing review of schools provision must be based on educational grounds and not just financial criteria.

The Diocese is working closely with colleagues in Lichfield, which is challenging school closures in north Shropshire.The Director of Education for Lichfield Diocese, Colin Hopkins, said he wanted to work with the local authority to draw up a new strategic plan for education in the county. “A very large number of Church of England schools throughout the country are in rural locations; and the government needs to ensure that children in these schools are not disadvantaged in terms of the funding these schools receive,” he said.