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Government Decision Leaves Hope Alive for Full Return of Village School

Published on: 17 Nov, 2022
Updated on: 18 Nov, 2022

Friends of Ripley School photographed in October 2021

By Martin Giles

An application from the Diocese of Guildford for a site in Ripley to have restrictions lifted that would have prevented it reopening as a primary school has been refused.

It is now to re-open as a school for special educational needs (SEN) pupils following a period of closure during which the buildings could only be used as a social and recreational facility.

Campaigners, who still wish for a re-opening of the Village Primary School, for all local children, feared that the site, owned by the Diocese of Guildford, would be sold off or leased on a long-term arrangement with a different use.

In October 2021 a spokesperson for the diocese said that there was insufficient demand for school places in the area: “There are many surplus places which currently exist in local schools in the planning area and these places will be used if there is any local need for primary places in the short term.”

Adding: “The Diocese has no plans to sell the site for development.”

See also: Diocese Decision Represents a New Threat to Ripley School, Say Campaigners

But last week the Trustees and Friends of Ripley Primary School announced: “We are delighted to advise you that the Department for Education (DfE) has decided not to make a Section 554 Order requested by Guildford Diocese, in favour of continuing with local trustees and management of the Ripley School site.”

The Section 554 application if it had been approved would have released the former Church of England school site at Ripley so that it could be used for wider purposes beyond its current trust restrictions, which require the site to be used for Church of England educational provision only.

“Thank you so much to each and every person who made an objection we are so grateful. The overwhelming support from our community no doubt played a large part in informing the DfE in their decision.”

According to the issued statement, in January, children with special needs (SEN) will be welcomed to the school for temporary use of the site until July 2024 and out-of-hours community use of the premises will continue. Ripley Pre-school will also remain open, “offering vital early years childcare for local children”.

Campaigners want the buildings reopened as Ripley Primary School.

The site trustees say that, with the support of the Department for Education, they can now approach the Charity Commission in order to amend the trust deed for the school. “This would enable us to move forward with our plan to bring a primary school back to our village by allowing the trustees to offer a long-term lease of the site to interested schools/Multi Academy Trusts.”

“The Site Trustees and Friends remain committed to using the site as a local primary school for local children and we are delighted that we are one step closer to this being achieved.”

In response, a Diocesan spokesperson said: “We are disappointed by this decision by the Department of Education and we are considering our position in the light of this decision and seeking further advice.

“Our priority now is to work closely with the site trustees to explore options for the former school site that continue to honour the objects of the original trust deed.

“Currently, there is a short-term arrangement with Surrey County Council for the site to be used for much-needed SEND provision and we will now work with the Charity Commission to understand how this could be extended.”

Cllr Colin Cross

Colin Cross, the local borough and county councillor (R4GV), said: “I am delighted with the outcome. The former Ripley School is a legally registered Asset of Community Value and therefore the ongoing protection of the whole site for future education-related use is incredibly important.

“The overwhelming number of written objections made this abundantly clear.”

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