A parish councillor has defended claims published in a campaign leaflet from the local Conservative party that Shoreham Academy could close if Labour came to power.
The leaflet was released by the Adur Conservative Party on the eve of the Southlands by-election last week.
It featured a picture of Shoreham Academy with the line ‘Shoreham Academy set to close?’ – and claimed a Corbyn led Labour government would ‘see the end’ of both Shoreham Academy and the Sir Robert Woodard Academy in Lancing.
A spokesman from the East Worthing and Shoreham Labour Party accused the Conservatives of ‘scaremongering’ and said the leaflet, which was ‘hand delivered to a significant number of houses’, had caused ‘considerable anger and worry to the public’.
The spokesman said the leaflet ‘appeared to misrepresent’ Labour Party policy announced at the annual conference this year.
“In September Angela Rayner [Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary] announced that local authorities could take back control of failing academies,” a spokesman for the Labour group said.
Councillor Debs Stainforth, who went on to win the election for Labour by 53 votes, said claims Shoreham Academy would be closed were ‘totally unfounded’.
She said: “I first saw this leaflet after someone posted it on a local social media site.
“The parent who posted it was really worried that the school may be about to close.
“I went on the site to reassure people that there was no threat to the local secondary school.
“Until this point the Southlands campaign had been carried out in a spirit of fair play.
“I think it’s a real shame that the local Conservative Party felt so desperate that they were willing to scare people in order to try to win a few votes.
“I hope that the public outcry on social media and the obvious anxiety that parents felt about these totally unfounded claims puts an end to this kind of campaigning once and for all.”
But Tony Nicklen, a councillor on Sompting Parish Council, who stood as the Conservative candidate in the Southlands by-election last Thursday, has since maintained that ‘the next Labour Government will end Shoreham Academy’.
He said Ms Rayner had left ‘no doubt’ in her speech to conference.
“Shoreham Academy, is a publicly funded school so Angela Rayner says Labour will close it during the course of the next Labour Government and put it back into local democratic control,” he said.
“Labour obviously think politicians know better than teachers how to run a school.
“Ten years of Labour Government Education Policy resulted in just 23 per cent of pupils attending Kings Manor Community College achieving grades A-C GCSE or equivalent in 2007.
“As an Academy, setting its own budgets and curriculum etc. 71 per cent of pupils achieved grades A-C GCSE or equivalent this year.
“Shoreham Academy is clearly achieving outstanding results.
“Ms Rayner has something very wrong with her maths if she thinks 23 per cent to 71 per cent pass rate is not an improvement.”
In her speech at the Labour Party Conference in September, Ms Rayner said: “We’ll allow academies to return to local authority control...we will use our time in government to bring all publicly funded schools back into the mainstream public sector, with a common rulebook and under local democratic control.”
Plans outlined at the Labour conference could only be enforced through a change of government following a general election, rather than through a local election like Thursday’s poll.
Ms Stainforth gathered 46 per cent of the votes in the by-election on Thursday, which was triggered after UKIP councillor Paul Graysmark retired to Scotland.
Her victory means that Labour, having taken over UKIP as the official opposition to the Tories on Adur in May, now has eight seats.
The Tories remain the largest party with 16, while UKIP has three and the Independents two.
The other Southlands ward seat was claimed by Labour in May, at UKIP’s expense.