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St Stephen's Juniors could close due to faulty boiler

By Joe Wright

A primary school head teacher faces shutting his school and sending 400 pupils home because he cannot afford to fix a faulty heating system.

St Stephen's Juniors head Stuart Pywell says only one of the Canterbury school’s three boilers is working but it is on its last legs and cannot heat the school and provide hot water at the same time.

If another cold snap hits the city he claims he will be left with no choice but to close the site, but education bosses are refusing to help, despite repeated requests for emergency funding.

Head teacher Stuart Pywell and caretaker Keith Burgess in the school's boiler room
Head teacher Stuart Pywell and caretaker Keith Burgess in the school's boiler room

Mr Pywell, 61, fears the school could be shut for weeks if almost £200,000 needed for new boilers is not found.

He said: “It is a disastrous situation that we have been left in – we’re going to have to shut the school.

"I don’t want to send the children home because I don’t want to inconvenience that many parents, but that option looks likely to happen.

“It will be 16 classes of pupils that will go without education for possibly even four weeks.”

The school, which became an academy in 2011, has submitted three bids for money to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) but Mr Pywell says the appeals have fallen on deaf ears.

He said: “I’ve told the ESFA we need to do something about it but they’ve said it’s not a priority until we’ve actually closed the school.

“So they want me to shut the junior school before they come down and sort the problem rather than pre-empting it and fixing it now.

St Stephen's Junior School may be forced to close
St Stephen's Junior School may be forced to close

"It’s backwards, it’s illogical – it makes no sense at all.

“We’ve got three boilers. One is unserviceable, one has been condemned and we’ve got one on its last legs – we desperately need replacements.

"It is outrageous that we have been left with 30-year-old equipment – I just cannot understand why.”

Currently, teachers are heating the school first thing in the morning or through the night before switching to hot water during school hours.

Mr Pywell, who has been at the school for 28 years, says job cuts are not an option to resolve the sad state of affairs.

He said: “It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s £200,000 and schools just don’t have £200,000 in their pocket.

"We had to let four staff go last year to make savings.

MP Rosie Duffield was elected in June
MP Rosie Duffield was elected in June

"To find £200,000 for boilers I’d have to let six teachers go, and I haven’t got six teachers to let go – we’d end up with 60 children in each class.”

The school’s caretaker, Keith Burgess, who has been in the role for 10 years, says he has to enter the boiler room at his own risk.

He said: “It is unhealthy – the boiler is leaking carbon monoxide. We can’t prioritise hot water over the school’s heating as you simply need both of them – you cannot have one or the other.”

A letter detailing the problems, which do not affect St Stephen’s Infants School on the other side of the car park, has been sent to parents this week and Mr Pywell has also been in contact with Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield calling for support.

Ms Duffield says the school has been left in an absurd situation.

“My team have been working with Mr Pywell to help ensure that St Stephen’s remains heated and open,” she said.

“It is nonsensical that ESFA should claim they cannot intervene with facilitating an application for full emergency funding until the boiler breaks down completely.

“I have communicated with ESFA and will continue to do so, until this is resolved and we are assured that St Stephen’s remains warm and toasty throughout the winter.”

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