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Parents "furious" as school closure approved

Parents "furious" as school closure approved

Published at 3:27pm 21st February 2017. (Updated at 5:51pm 21st February 2017)

North Yorkshire County Council has decided today to close Horton-in-Ribblesdale Church of England primary school at the end of the school year.

It is proposed that the catchment area of Austwick CE VA Primary School, which Ofsted has judged as outstanding, should be expanded to include the current Horton-in-Ribblesdale catchment area.

Horton-in-Ribblesdale has only 12 children on roll, including only one child in Key Stage 1 and only two boys in the school plus one child in nursery. Councillors say numbers are projected to fall further with 10 in October and 8 in October 2018. 

"This has been a very difficult decision for the Council" said Cllr Arthur Barker, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Schools. "We do not take the decision lightly to close a school and we do our best to support our small schools. 

"Indeed we have nearly 50 schools in the county with fewer than 50 pupils, a sign of this commitment.

"But we have real concerns about the quality and breadth of education that Horton could continue to provide and for the school’s financial viability.  The two are not unrelated and we cannot ignore those concerns. 

"There is a major difference between most of the small schools in the County and the current position at Horton-in-Ribblesdale, with its very low numbers which are projected to fall even further.

"Our research shows that although small schools of between 35 and 60 pupils perform better at key stage 2 than the county average, very small schools with fewer than 6 pupils at key stage 2 perform 5 per cent below the county average.  We have to take these figures into account.”

But parents, who've been campaigning to save the school, say they're furious with the decision.

Nicky Rhodes, a parent and Co-Chair Governor said: "We're furious that what we went through was a rubber-stamp situation rather than a serious consideration of the arguments that we've put forward and the reasons for keeping the school open."

The group of parents have put together a programme which they say shows how they intend to improve the sustainablity of the school and the community. 

Nicky also disputes the council's claim pupil numbers are set to fall. She added: "It's ridiculous really. It's very easy to predict low pupil numbers when you only look at a certain set of statistics. They envisage from any new building that occurs in Horton, there'll be one child in every four residences. I don't know where they get these figures from."

The council says it's explored alternatives to the closure of the school but no other school currently is prepared to enter into a federation with Horton. It says there's no potential for the school to convert to academy status or to join a multi-academy trust because it would not meet tests of due diligence due to its small size.

Cllr Barker continued:  "We understand the crucial role village schools play in the life of their communities and we work with planning authorities to emphasise the importance and need for affordable and suitable housing to attract families into rural areas. If small schools are to survive then communities must remain sustainable and planning authorities must take this into account.

"Unfortunately we do not believe that the policies of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority will provide sufficient children to ensure the continuing viability of the school even if potential housing developments in Horton-in-Ribblesdale come forward.

"But as the education authority for North Yorkshire our priority must be children’s education and that it remains fit for purpose to give them the best start for their future lives."

Nicky Rhodes says parents have not given up their fight, and they plan to appeal the council's decision. She said: "The fight is far from over. As a voluntary aided school we have the right to take this decision forward to adjudication, which we fully intend to do. We don't feel that this has been a fair hearing."

Reacting to the decision, the Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Carl Lis, said: "I am saddened by the decision to close Horton-in-Ribblesdale Primary School. It could have a significant detrimental impact on the viability of the community.  

"In common with many other remote rural areas, the National Park has a population that is already significantly older than the national average. As rural communities lose schools, so it becomes increasingly unlikely that they can hold on to, or attract, families with young children – creating a vicious cycle in which services continue to decline.

"The National Park Authority has no direct role in the provision of local schools.  But the vision that we and our partners have set out in the YDNP Management Plan is for the Park to be ‘home to strong, self-reliant and balanced communities’.

"With the support of the National Park Authority, Craven District Council is embarking on a strategic approach to attract more young families to the Dales. We can achieve that only by safeguarding services, including by retaining good access to primary schools.

"However, I do recognise that some schools face severe financial difficulties and that the County Council, along with all other public bodies, has tough decisions to make."

Richard Noake, diocesan director of education for Leeds said that the diocese stood with the County Council in the decision it has had to make.  He said: "We are very aware of all the attempts that have been made by the local community to keep this school going, but the overriding concerns about quality of provision and financial viability have not gone away."