Fun tinged with sadness marks the end of an era for Welney school - one of the smallest in Norfolk - as it closes for good with a Christmas party

William Marshall Primary School Welney. Picture: Steve Williams.

William Marshall Primary School Welney. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

Welney pupils marked the end of their school’s 167-year history with a host of events over the final week culminating with a Christmas party complete with circus skills.

The closure comes despite a campaign by parents and governors to try to save the William Marshall primary school which has just 23 pupils on its roll.

Parent Ingrid Spelman, whose daughter Milana, 6, and son Timur, 4, will start next term at Upwell School, said the family was upset to see the village school close.

“It is a real shame, the children love coming to school here,” she said.

Norfolk County Council decided to close the school after deciding falling school numbers meant they could not bring about the ‘significant improvement’ required by Ofsted.

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The extra cost per pupil at the school also played a part. The cost per child is very high compared to larger schools.

Fellow mum Sindy Ellis, whose eldest son Ethan, 7, is a pupil in the Swans class, said: “I’m absolutely gutted. We tried to save the school but it was no use. My other son Chase should have started here next September. Now they will be going to Manea.

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“I have had to learn to drive so I can get them to school. The distance does worry me; it is nice to have them on the doorstep if they become ill and need to come home.”

The school, which originally opened as a free school in the church vestry in 1827, has been on its current site since 1848.

It has been in partnership with Upwell Primary School for 11 years sharing the head teacher James McBurney.

Deputy head Lynn Radford said; “It is sad to see the school close but we have tried to make it a really positive experience for the children. We have had a lot of fun activities this week including going to the pantomime at King’s Lynn, a visit to the Welney Wetlands Centre and our nativity service.”

Mrs Radford will be moving to the Upwell school from January together with school secretary Julia Eyles.

Mrs Eyles said: “It is very sad. This has been a lovely school to work in. The small size means I know all the children and their parents really well. In fact some of the parents have become my friends over the years.

“The children come and confide in me; there is a real family feel and we are a close team.”

Teacher Linda Claxton is moving on to pastures new.

She agreed it was a sad day and said she has loved working at the school for the past nine years.

“It has been a joy to work here,” she said.

In its early days the school boasted as many as 120 pupils but over the years the numbers have dwindled and the average roll call is now just 30. It would have been 30 this year but uncertainty over the school’s future led some families to send their children elsewhere.

Mrs Radford said: “We lost a lot of pupils overnight about three years ago when they rehoused families so they could refurbish homes in Chestnut Avenue. We knew they would be back once the houses were complete and they have. But in honesty Norfolk County Council was looking at schools of less than 50 pupils, and there is no way we would ever have more than 50 children.”

Pupils will be provided with free transport to the partner school at Upwell and also to the Townley School at Christchurch.

Parents will have to make their own arrangements for children attending other schools including Ten Mile Bank, Manea and also Downham Market.

Mrs Radford: “Some parents chose to send their children here in September knowing it was likely to close sometime during the school year but they wanted their children to make friends here and go all together to their new school.”

In statement on the school’s website head teacher James McBurney, who has been off sick, said: “It has been a long struggle and an immense challenge to meet the current demands of our education system.

“We are proud that so many of our children have flourished at secondary level: still firm in our beliefs that we have given them a strong foundation and a range of experiences that could not have been bettered.

“We have heard many stories in the last few months of ex-pupils who have gone on to achieve their ambitions.

“Changes are inevitable even though not always welcome so please be assured that we are doing everything possible to ensure a smooth transition for the current pupils to their new schools.”

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