AN ANDOVER councillor has described the potential closure of a rural primary school as ‘a real shame’ and said that course of action would be ‘far too premature’.

As previously reported, Hatherden Church of England Primary School has recently been  subject to stakeholder consultation, with education authority Hampshire County Council due to make a decision on the future of the school.

It comes after the school - which currently has just 34 pupils on its registers despite capacity for more than 100 - was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and, despite considerable improvements, has struggled to get the resources needed for major changes due to low student numbers.

Now, Cllr Phil North, leader of Test Valley Borough Councillor and ward councillor for Bourne Valley, in which Hatherden School is situated, has responded to the options being put forward - which include no action, attempt to find an academy trust or sponsor for the school, or closure of the school.

In a statement, he said: “There has been a school on this site since 1725 – and according to the school’s website, is currently the oldest school building still being used as an educational establishment in Hampshire. Generations of young people have been educated in Hatherden for the best part of 300 years. With one of the three consultation options to permanently close the school, the stakes couldn’t be higher for the village. If that option is pursued it would mean a permanent change to the fabric of the settlement and the surrounding villages of Wildhern and Tangley. Not only impacting those currently living in the parish but future generations of young people.”

Cllr North added that he recognisse that the school has been rated inadequate by Ofsted and all the implications that brings, and said he is also aware that because of its Ofsted rating that the Department for Education has served an Academy Order on the school.

He continued: “I am, however, heartened by findings of the most recent Ofsted monitoring report on May 18 this year, which concludes that: ‘Leaders and managers are taking effective actions towards the removal of the serious weaknesses designation.’

“I know that these are only baby steps but due to the hard work of the current staff and the significant support and resources from the local authority, there are early signs that the school is being turned around. It would, therefore, be a real shame if these efforts were wasted if the school was closed.”

Cllr North said that the “overwhelming” feeling from those he has spoken to is that now would not be the time to take the drastic action of closing the school, adding: “I believe it is far too premature to seek to close the school, which would have permanent consequences for the village, its vitality and attracting young families to live there. Especially as the presence of the school is connected with the Parish Council's aspiration for more affordable family homes, which they're currently actively pursuing.

“I strongly urge the County Council to keep Hatherden School open. Continuing to provide the support and resources the school requires to continue its turnaround, whilst also supporting the Regional Schools Commissioner to find an Academy sponsor."