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Challenging times for village school

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Concerns have been raised over the future of a West Norfolk primary school, with some parents fearful it may be forced to close altogether.Middleton Primary Academy has been beset with issues for the last six months – lead paint was found in classrooms at the end of last year and the school suffered serious flooding in January.Most of its pupils are currently travelling five miles to school in Gayton for their education.

Middleton Primary Academy has been hit by issues, prompting fears for its future.

With neither the paint nor flooding situation yet resolved, the vast majority of pupils are expected to continue their studies in Gayton for the rest of the summer term and, most likely, then on a permanent basis from September onwards.A parent with children at Middleton, who wished to remain anonymous, contacted Your Local Paper to raise their concerns. The mum said: “Lead paint and flooding, no work has been done to fix it, they’ve encouraged parents to leave and I believe they wish to close the school.”It is understood some parents want to set up a fundraising group to help the school survive. One told us: “It’s all about saving the school.”The school currently has a nursery class, another covering years two and three, and one for children in years four to six.At the start of the next academic year just one class is set to remain at Middleton. That class will have to accommodate the different schooling needs of children aged four to 11, something the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT), which runs the school, has described as “a challenge”.In a joint letter sent to parents and carers, DNEAT chief executive Oliver Burwood and the school’s executive headteacher Rachael Greenhalgh said: “The quite exceptional circumstances we have faced and the partial closures we have been forced to make have been a massive blow to us all. Nevertheless, you have shown incredible understanding for which we are most grateful. “The initial flood damage was extensive, damaging floors, carpets and electrics. In effect, the school is sitting on a huge amount of water. We have also had to deal with the lead paint that was exposed in some parts of the building.“Further heavy rain has compounded matters and despite bringing in heavy-duty dehumidifiers, it is slow going. “We cannot be confident the school could open to all pupils before the end of the summer term. We will therefore carry on with the existing temporary arrangements throughout the summer term.”One class will remain at Middleton. All others will continue to attend Gayton with transport provided by the trust. The trust said pupils will now be integrated into existing Gayton classes “so that they will benefit from being taught in larger groups of children their own age”. Some parents have expressed fears Middleton school could close altogether, and in the letter from Mr Burwood and Mrs Greenhalgh they said: “The number of pupils forecast to be on roll in September has fallen considerably over recent weeks, with more families deciding to choose Gayton permanently due to the current situation at Middleton.“This means that if we are able to re-open Middleton fully in September, we will plan to run only one class for all pupils from Reception to Year 6. Unfortunately, we have no other option at the moment due to the very low numbers.“We will of course strive to provide children with the high-quality education they deserve but teaching pupils across the age range from four to 11 will be a challenge. We will be planning carefully over the coming weeks as to how to staff this class in order that we can provide the best education possible.”In a statement provided by DNEAT to YLP this week, Mr Burwood added: “It has been a very difficult time for Middleton Primary with unprecedented flooding causing significant damage to around two thirds of the school buildings. Our insurers have advised it is not safe or practical to lay new flooring, or welcome the return of children yet, until the subfloor is fully mechanically dried out.“Therefore, in order to provide children with an education, the school has been bussing affected children to Middleton’s federated school of Gayton, whilst the repair work is carried out to classrooms.“One class does remain open and active at Middleton, as this classroom was not damaged. The move to one class in September reflects the fall in enrol to significantly below 30. We need to be realistic that very many small schools nationally are facing the double impact of reduced funding and in many cases falling enrols due to demographic changes.“As a trust of small schools, we endeavour to ensure that all remain sustainably viable, which we do through a continual process. We would like to thank parents and the Middleton community for their support and understanding as we deal with the flood damage and plan for September.”

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