An overwhelming majority of people at a public meeting have called for Ilfracombe Infant School to split away from its federation with Goodleigh.

Chairman Val Gates reads out a statement during the Ilfracombe Infants meeting. Picture: Tony GussinChairman Val Gates reads out a statement during the Ilfracombe Infants meeting. Picture: Tony Gussin

An overwhelming majority of people at a public meeting have called for Ilfracombe Infant School to split away from its federation with Goodleigh.

More than 200 people including parents and former teachers turned out at St Peter's Church on Tuesday, February 12.

They were there to discuss the issue that has inflamed the town since three Ilfracombe governors were suspended for six months after calling for the school to 'defederate'.

It is felt the federation is not working for Ilfracombe, with headteacher Claire Grant dividing her time between both schools, while the school has gone from a rating of 'outstanding' in 2011 to 'requires improvement' in 2017.

Parents at the meeting were urged to formally email or submit their opinions on the issue before it is decided on Friday, February 15, by the remaining nine Goodleigh governors, the head and one Ilfracombe governor.

The meeting was chaired by Ilfracombe mayor Val Gates, alongside parent representative Terry Elliott, town councillor Netti Pearson and former Ilfracombe Academy director Pat Glover.

Also in attendance were the suspended governors - Iris Watson, Andrew Bradley and Geoff Tonkin, all of whom have served as chairman of the board in the past.

No one representing the federation or Devon County Council was present, despite being invited, but statements were read out on behalf of DCC head of education Dawn Stabb and chairman of governors Nadine Sampson.

No formal resolution was passed on the night but in addition to calling on parents to submit their formal views before it was too late, there was a strong mood that the fight would go on regardless of Friday's decision.

The town council was urged to lead a campaign and Ms Gates, speaking in her capacity as mayor, said she would see what she could do and it seemed like a good idea to her.

'Democracy killed off'

Mr Tonkin said he had never known a situation like this before in North Devon, adding: "If governors in a school cannot bring issues of concern, to be placed on an agenda, for discussion without the item being blocked by the chair of governors and the headteacher, then the democratic process has been effectively killed off in our schools."

Iris Watson, who broke confidentiality to reveal she had been suspended over taking in a get well card for a teacher, said at her suspension meeting she had been accused of 'sowing dissent'.

She added: "We are not legally bound to stay within the federation and I honestly believe that the school does not benefit from the federation.

"Surely what we feel must have some bearing on county hall and the people who hide behind legislation?"

READ MORE: governor suspended 'for bringing in a get well card' .

Mr Bradley said: "A big concern has been the sense of the rapid turnover of experienced staff over recent years. I understand that 22 teachers and teaching assistants have left Ilfracombe between 2016-2018."

'Federation is best option'

In her statement Dawn Stabb said: "I am aware that there have been a number of issues raised by governors and former staff from Ilfracombe over the life of the federation.

"I am confident that the leadership of the federation has worked hard to address these issues. I am well aware that there remains work to be done and how the school engages with parents is a key part of that work.

"The decision on whether or not to de-federate is entirely a matter for the governors but I am of the opinion that keeping the federation in place and intact remains the best option for both school communities."

She also highlighted what the 2017 Oftsed inspection found, despite its rating of 'requires improvement'.

It said: 'The local authority intervened in 2014 to broker temporary leadership. Since the current executive headteacher's appointment, the school has engaged well.

'The executive headteacher's fervent drive for improvement has been effective. Effective guidance from the local authority has steered the school back on course.

'The most recent leadership regime has prompted significant changes for the better. The executive headteacher leads with a strong moral purpose. This has galvanised staff to work together to improve outcomes for pupils'.

Previous headteacher Christine Thompson and Theresa Hodge said the cliam the federation had saved the school was a 'mistruth'.

Mrs Thompson said: "I have official local authority and Oftsed evidence, and so has Theresa, that standards and attainment was significantly above national average up to 2013. Theresa left the school in 2013. The federation happened in 2014. From 2014 onwards, standards started to fall."

READ MORE: 'school is not suiting the children of Ilfracombe' .

Parents or guardians of children who attend the school have been asked to give their views on Ilfracombe leaving the federation by emailing or handing them in at the reception desk of Ilfracombe Infant and Nursery School.