Diocese of Guildford in dispute over plan to use vacant school during pandemic

July 3, 2020

The Diocese of Guildford is in dispute with the trustees of a closed village school over plans to let nearby schools make use of the vacant site during the COVID 19 epidemic. A group set up to support the now closed Church of England school claim that the Diocese threatened to report the trustees to the Charity Commission if they allowed other schools to use the premises. This is despite the site having been maintained since the school closure and it currently being used by a pre-school. The Dioceses and trustees are now in dispute about whether the grounds yet meet sufficient health and safety standards to be used by nearby schools.

The latest argument forms part of a long running dispute between the Diocese and residents who want the site to provide mainstream schooling for local people. Until 2018, the premises were used by the former Ripley Church of England Primary School, which was put into special measures by Ofsted and closed because no new academy sponsor could be found to take it over.

Accord has previously reported how, to the annoyance of many local families, the Diocese did not step in to help save the school. The Diocese’s own academy trust refused to take on the school, while the Diocese refused to let a local non-faith Academy chain run the school on the grounds that the chain would not be able to uphold the school’s Christian ethos. This was despite the non-faith chain already operating a Church of England infant school as an ‘associate member’.

Despite the former school having been a Church of England school, its premises are held in trust, with many local people hoping that, with increased nearby home building in the planning, a new school may soon reopen on the site. Ripley Church of England Primary School was the only school in Ripley village.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, the Reverend Stephen Terry, said ‘The motivation of those who provide education should be to serve the wider public good. The attitude taken by the Diocese to other school providers and to the community it serves is therefore difficult to understand, as was its reluctance to work with an established academy chain that has experience of successfully managing a faith school, which was puzzling in the extreme. It is to be hoped therefore that agreement between different parties can be achieved to enable the school site to be used to aid social distancing measures in co-operation with nearby schools, and to fulfil its rightful function.’

This latest dispute is one of a series of controversies related to the Diocese’s involvement in local school provision. In February Accord reported on the pressure the Diocese’s academy trust was coming under from a large group of dissatisfied parents of Ashley Church of England Primary School in Walton-on-Thames regarding its treatment of the school’s former head teacher. In March meanwhile, Accord reported on plans by Surrey County Council to close a Church of England infant school and a nearby community infant and nursery school, and to gift the valuable site of the larger community school to the Diocese for it to operate a new voluntary aided school.

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