Wennington Hall School can accommodate 80 students, but currently has just 15 on its roll – eight of whom are set to leave this year.
The decision by Lancashire County Council to shut the gates for good comes just months after OFSTED inspectors suggested that the Lodge Lane facility – which educates 11-16-year-olds with social, emotional and mental health needs – had begun to turn a corner after previous poor ratings.
The school was placed in special measures back in December 2016 and was found still to be “inadequate” at its last full inspection in July 2019.
However, a monitoring visit last October saw the school’s improvement plan judged to be “fit for purpose”, while increased support and training for staff was said to be having a “positive effect”. Inspectors also praised improvements in various aspects of the curriculum, which they found was now “broader and more ambitious”.
Yet the school’s past history has sealed its fate, following the issuing of an order from the regional schools commissioner that it should be turned into an academy and taken out of the control of Lancashire County Council.
Attempts to find an academy sponsor to take over the running of Wennington Hall failed – as did a subsequent effort to secure its long-term future by handing it over to an independent provider.
With the government prepared to revoke the academy order only if the independent sector was willing to step in, County Hall was unable to continue to run the school – in spite of the recent improvements and the fact that the authority’s own “statement of action” to support the facility was judged by OFSTED to be suitable.
The drop in pupil numbers has also left the school with a £1.7m gap in its finances. That deficit is forecast to grow by £800,000 by the end of the current financial year – and by a further £2m over the course of the next two years.
A public consultation that was carried out into the possible closure of the school back in the autumn received just four responses, which included concerns about the future of staff and pupils.
A meeting of Lancashire County Council’s cabinet – at which the closure decision was made – heard that the seven children who are not yet due to leave the school have all been found alternative education.
“It’s hoped that the boys will be able to move to their new schools in the summer term before they start permanently in September,” said the cabinet member for education and skills, Jayne Rear.
Wennington Hall has also previously offered residential places to up to 20 pupils during term time, but currently none of its students lives on the site.