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Distinguished ex-pupils of West End PS appeal for it to stay open

Ellen-Kate Horton

A former education permanent secretary yesterday condemned the proposed closure of West End Primary School because it would “throw away its legacy”.

Ellen-Kate Horton, who attended the Sandys school during segregation, said that its place in the history books as one of the first schools in the country for Black children had to be respected.

Mr Horton added: “We have to consider the history – the thought of throwing it away is just sad.

“It is difficult, especially in light of the fact we were not allowed to go anywhere else – we had no choices.

“Look at the population of Somerset – at that time the vast majority were Black and that’s where we went to school. Somerset Primary School was used for the children of those on the US bases.

“We went to cooking class at Sandys Grammar School, as it was called at the time, and we couldn’t even walk on to the property – we couldn’t cross the grounds – we had to walk around it to get to the class.

“Memories like that stick with you and to think that today we want to rid ourselves of the only legacy we had in Somerset.

“It holds a special place for us and the entire Somerset community.”

Ms Horton was speaking after the Government proposed to close the school and eight others as part of a shake-up of the public education system.

The Government said it wanted one school in each of the nine parishes, except for Pembroke, which would have two.

The plans would bring the number primary schools down from 18 to ten, with a new build in Devonshire.

Ms Horton, a qualified teacher who now runs the Perform to Learn preschool in Pembroke, said that some schools did need to be closed.

She added that she thought the Government’s plan was a “fait accompli”.

Ms Horton said: “We should have done all of the talking before they made a decision.

“I hear the decision is not final but it sounded pretty final to me. It reads like it’s a decision.”

The Ministry of Education earlier said that a consultation period continued until March 12.

The ministry has also organised a series of public meetings where members of the public can air their views.

Part of the reasoning behind the choice of schools for the axe was how well their buildings could be adapted to modern learning.

Ms Horton said that West End Primary could better serve pupils than Somerset Primary School – which had not been earmarked for closure.

She added: “When I compare the physical plants, I think they both of them would have to be made ready for accessibility.

“I am not an architect, but it looks easier at West End Primary.

“West End has two fields and is safer for children because the bus can ride right up to the school gate.”

Ms Horton said: “If we insist on having a preschool there are classrooms that can be adapted at West End.

“There are 14 classrooms at West End and a maximum of 12 at Somerset Primary.

West End has a larger bathroom facility, which they may need.”

Cecille Snaith-Simmons, the mother of Jamahl Simmons, a Progressive Labour Party MP and also a former West End Primary pupil, penned an op-ed for The Royal Gazette where she appealed for the school to stay open.

Ms Snaith-Simmons said the school was important to Black history and had thrived despite being under-resourced for many years compared to Somerset Primary.

Ms Snaith-Simmons copied the op-ed in a letter to David Burt, the Premier and Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education.

Mr Burt said in his response that the Government wanted to build “a school system for the 21st century”.

He added: “You can be assured that the historical legacy of any school which may not continue to operate in this current form will be honoured.“

But Ms Snaith-Simmons said she took no comfort from the Premier’s letter.

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Published February 03, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated February 02, 2021 at 7:15 pm)

Distinguished ex-pupils of West End PS appeal for it to stay open

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