: Waiting for next track...

: Waiting for next track...

Call to keep Dales primary schools open

Call to keep Dales primary schools open

Published at 6:04am 7th October 2017.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is appealing to education chiefs to recognise the vital importance of primary schools in rural communities.

Letters making the case for keeping open all remaining primary schools in the National Park are also going to be sent to local MPs.

A motion was approved unanimously by members of the Authority at a recent meeting.

The motion said: "In line with the current National Park Management Plan and the new emerging Plan, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority calls upon the County Councils, Local Education Authorities, Multi-Academy Trusts (with remit over primary schools in the National Park) and the schools' leadership and management to recognise the importance of primary schools, individually or networked with others, as a key contributor to the sustainability and future of rural communities and in particular the retention and attraction of young families within them."

The motion was proposed by County Councillor John Blackie, who told the meeting that up to 10 primary schools were "under threat" because of falling pupil numbers.

He said: "When I was first elected to North Yorkshire County Council 20 years ago, Askrigg primary had 79 pupils, Bainbridge had 46 and West Burton had 44. Now the pupil numbers are, respectively, 40, 23 and 22. In 20 years, the school populations have halved. The situation is even worse in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.

"As a National Park Authority, we want to send a clarion call to those that have influence over the running and funding of primary schools - to remind them of the importance of protecting these vital community assets.

"The efforts we are making to retain and attract young families will be seriously undermined if schools are allowed to close because of short-term financial issues.

"Recent history shows us that if a primary school closes, the local community is set on the road to becoming a retirement village. Keld had a thriving school in the 1960s. The school was later closed and now there is not a single child in the village."

Carl Lis, Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, added: "The recent closure of Horton-in-Ribblesdale primary school was a serious blow for the community, which we campaigned against.

"We do not run schools, or set schools policy, but we have a responsibility to speak on behalf of local communities. We want to make the case to those who manage primary schools in the National Park that the schools should be retained. If they are not, young adults are likely to continue to leave the park, never to return to live, and the chances of attracting young families to replace them will be further diminished."

Yvonne Peacock, who lives in Bainbridge and is the Conservative leader of Richmondshire District Council, seconded the motion.

She said: "I spoke particularly about West Burton, Bainbridge and Askrigg schools. It is vital that these schools do not close. The extra funding for schools announced by the Government last month is welcome, but we need to ensure local education authorities take on board the importance of our local schools when making decisions.

"We need to encourage more young families to live and work in the Dales. Having a good local primary school is one of the factors that can keep a village sustainable. When a school closes, we know that a village can die."

North Yorkshire County Council has welcomed the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority's appeal to support rural primary schools, adding that it "understands more than most" the crucial role that they play in communities.

It has lobbied the Government for better funding for the county's schools and for small village schools in particular.

Falling pupil numbers because of changing demography in rural areas, partly due to a lack of affordable housing for young families, mean that small schools face very tough financial challenges.

The council says it "takes every opportunity" to remind planning authorities that if village schools are to survive, then communities themselves must remain sustainable through a range of housing provision.

It has also insisted that it "does not take the decision lightly" to close small schools and must consider the quality and breadth of teaching and learning, so that all children in the county have access to the highest possible standards of schooling.

County Councillor Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire's Executive Member for Schools, said: "The sustainability of rural schools is a responsibility and a commitment that all must share.

"Education and planning authorities, as well as central government, we all have our part to play."