A CLOSURE-threatened village school relied upon by travellers has been given new hope by a decision which could affect county-wide education reforms.
Cheshire County Council's Tory executive last month agreed to publish notices proposing the closure of Dunham Hill Primary School in 2008.
But the decision was yesterday put on hold by the performance and over-view committee, following a 'call-in' led by Lib-Dem leader Cllr Sue Proctor and Labour councillor Ken Edwards.
They are among members who have joined parents and governors in arguing it would be difficult to replicate Dunham's expertise at another school, with Helsby's Horn's Mill Primary earmarked to take the displaced children.
The committee unanimously agreed executive members should reconsider their decision next Thursday.
The council's Transforming Learning Communities (TLC) programme aims to reduce surplus school places caused by a falling birth-rate.
Dunham has a capacity of 88, with 47 pupils currently on roll, 27 of them travellers, but its numbers change throughout the year as traveller children come and go.
And Cllr Proctor told the committee that latest Office for National Statistics data showed at least a 1% increase in birth rates year on year.
Cllr Brendan Doyle said: 'If birth rates are not falling I want some evidence because it will not only affect this decision but TLC across the board.'
Conservative councillor Shirley Harris admitted there was an issue and said she would ask for a new statistical report to go the executive.
Delivering a damning verdict on the county's handling of the issue, Cllr Edwards doubted whether it had followed guidelines under the Race Relations Act 2000 in producing its Race Impact Assessment. (RIA)
He argued it lacked the data on travellers in the area needed to assess the impact on families who rely on Dunham Hill.
'It could be considered our treatment of the RIA has been biased because the bureaucracy itself is strongly in favour of recommending the closure of this school,' said Cllr Edwards.
'If we have officers with this corporate and considered view it seems very difficult to ask them to draw up the report; there should have been independent input.'
But Cllr Harris said: 'I have complete confidence in our officers and the advice being given.' lTHE threat of closure may loom for primary schools when the county's controversial review of education arrives in Chester this month.
Three drop-in sessions will introduce the Transforming Learning Communities (TLC) programme to parents ahead of proposals likely to force major changes on a number of schools in and around the city.
But with Kingsway High School due to close next month, it is likely primary schools with dwindling rolls will be most vulnerable.
Proposals could include closures, amalgamations, federations, the establishment of children's centres and the development of extended schools, with community facilities in empty classrooms.
The roadshows will take place from 2-7pm on June 27 and June 28 at Sainsbury's car park in Chester, then from 3.30-6.30pm in Malpas Library at Bishop Heber High School.