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Updated: Bishop Threatens Legal Action Over Plan to Use Closed Ripley School During Pandemic

Published on: 30 Jun, 2020
Updated on: 1 Jul, 2020

A row has erupted over the Bishop of Dorking’s threat to take legal action if Farnham’s Raleigh school temporarily uses closed classrooms at Ripley Primary School to allow more social distancing for pupils during the Coranavirus emergency.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman has accused Guildford Diocese of being “the Tory party at prayer” but the diocese says it has been advised not to use the classrooms.

And local borough councillor Colin Cross (R4GV, Lovelace) said: “The diocese is working to a different agenda. They don’t want it shown that the school is up to standard to accept pupils because it does not want Ripley School to open again as an infant school as many in Ripley wish. The diocese only wants a special needs facility.”

A letter from Sir Andrew Carter, CEO of the South Farnham Educational Trust, which oversees Raleigh School, said: “We had intended to use Ripley School as a venue at the kind invitation of the Ripley School Trust and through their agents, Friends of Ripley School.

“We have undertaken a full risk-assessment, made detailed plans and Surrey County Council very kindly agreed to mow the field for our use (even leaving a wildflower area for the children to enjoy).

Friends of Ripley Primary School, Paul Kennedy is second left and Colin Cross is third from the right.

“Julie Iles [county councillor] was in favour as indeed was Sir Paul Beresford MP and Jeremy Hunt MP for South-west Surrey. South Farnham Educational Trust and the Raleigh Local Governing Body worked tirelessly to make it happen.

“However, we received an email from Mr Alex Tear (diocesan director of education) expressing concerns.

“This was followed by an email from Bishop Jo Wells of Dorking in which she threatened legal action if we proceeded.

“Mr Hunt, has spoken to Bishop Wells and Mr Tear and they stated it was illegal to use the school as it was closed and, therefore, not an ‘educational facility’.”

But the Educational Trust say the Department of Education told them using Ripley school was permissible and “use of the building by this group has been deemed by one DfE official as not qualifying as educational use”.

Sir Andrew added: “I have written to Bishop Wells to ask her to help to find a solution (which clearly exists) and I look forward to her positive reply. We read constantly that children are having difficulties during the pandemic and our use of Ripley School (for just three weeks) would make a valuable contribution.”

An appeal has been made for local people to lobby the Guildford Diocese and the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson.

Friends of Ripley School have been campaigning for it to be reopened since its unpopular closure in July 2018.

Because the school Trust was created in 1834 it was not included in a legal provision that transferred most Church of England school Trusts to the relevant diocese.

Guildford Diocese wants it to be released from Trustee ownership to “allow the school site to be used for wider educational purposes such as a Special Education Needs & Disability (SEND) provision by Surrey County Council or another use for the benefit of the whole community”, according to a letter written by Mr Tear in February.

Paul Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary spokesperson for Mole Valley, said: “The Conservatives’ closure of Ripley’s 180-year-old primary school just over two years ago was an act of pure vandalism, which I would have fought tooth and nail to reverse if I had been elected as our MP last December.

“But the Diocese of Guildford’s dog-in-a-manger refusal, with a threat of legal proceedings, to allow the school to reopen to accommodate children from the Raleigh School is absolutely criminal.

“In a time of national crisis one might have expected The Church of England to show a bit of compassion for the families of north-east Guildford. Not a bit of it.

“They seem to be more motivated by the plans they have been hatching with the government to overturn the charitable trusts which first established the school in 1834.

“Truly they are the Tory party at prayer.”

Cllr Colin Cross, a member of Ripley School’s Friends, added: “My outstanding emotion with regard to the ongoing intransigence of the Guildford and Dorking bishops and their diocese education board is one of sadness.

“The problems in our schools are extremely taxing and complex so when a needy local school is provided with a Godsend of 60 spare classroom places (ie four classes), all compliant with the latest regulations, plus a huge open-grassed field for games, it should be a no-brainer.

“Not so for our local diocese who are working to a completely different agenda, it seems.

“I think the time is right for the central government to intervene. And the sooner the better as the diocese must be taught they are neither above the law nor are they exempt from showing some human compassion to the desperate local families now affected.”

Guildford Diocese, in a June 24 statement, said: “Following national guidance issued by the Department of Education, and after liaising with the Regional Schools Commissioner and the Local Authority, the Diocese has been advised not to use the buildings for this purpose. We realise that this is disappointing to those locally, but the safety of children and staff is paramount.

“The Diocese understands that the Friends of Ripley have offered the use of the buildings to The Raleigh School in Horsley. It is sad that The Raleigh school did not contact the Diocese before writing to parents to inform them of their plans to use the site.

Mr Tear added: “We have been advised by the Department of Education that opening the buildings at this stage of the school term could expose children to risks which would not be responsible or conducive to a good learning environment for the children.

“The Diocesan Board of Education is hoping to use the school buildings for Special Educational Needs (SEND) provision for children with learning difficulties and disabilities. This will mean that the site continues to support children locally and across the county.”

Jo Wells the Bishop of Dorking

Bishop Wells said: “I am deeply aware of the longing for this site to be reopened and fulfil its role of providing full-time education to our children. The diocese longs for that too, while recognising the problem of the many surplus places in neighbouring schools.

“The diocese has invited the Friends of Ripley and the site trustees who are responsible for the site to explore an exciting possibility of developing Special Education Needs provision.

“There is huge need for this in Surrey, and we would be proud to support this precious yet vulnerable sector of the community.”

See also: Ripley Primary School Trustees Offer Help to Local Schools


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Responses to Updated: Bishop Threatens Legal Action Over Plan to Use Closed Ripley School During Pandemic

  1. Alan Cooper Reply

    July 1, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    Great advertisement for religion and its leaders at their best. Humanity out of the window.

  2. Stuart Taylor Reply

    July 1, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    I can see how a regular school building might not be suitable for special needs use, but if it can be used for SEND provision then surely it will be OK for temporary mainstream use? I can’t see much will have changed over two years either, if the Trust or Diocese have maintained the building, so long as legionella and other hazard related to empty buildings are dealt with.

    Sound like someone needs to take some initiative.

  3. John Perkins Reply

    July 2, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    The argument put forward by both the Diocese of Guildford and that of Dorking, that an independent risk assessment must be made before using the school, does not make sense. An assessment has already been made, so all they are saying is that they want a second opinion. I wonder if they made an assessment of the risk of the 11-12 mile road journey to Esher High.

    Apparently, the Diocese refused to accept SFET’s [South Farnham Educational Trust] offer to take over the school before it closed because it was non-denominational. Yet they don’t apply that criterion when offering to allow them to use the CofE school in Esher.

  4. C Johns Reply

    July 2, 2020 at 6:54 pm

    Prior to lockdown I regularly ferried my granddaughter to Ripley Primary for her ballet class. I didn’t realise that it wasn’t an active school as it was in such good condition.

    Clearly the Guildford Diocese is trying to stall hoping that summer holidays will intervene and the issue will be forgotten. Hopefully, it won’t be.

    The Diocese is not being the good Samaritan and would do well to quickly change its position.

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