Nestling in the Bleasdale hills between Chipping and Garstang, Lancashire’s smallest school believes it has a lot to shout about.
A hidden gem with extensive facilities – large and recently refurbished classrooms, extensive grounds and woodland and an on-site kitchen where home-cooked meals are prepared for a start.
Bleasdale church of England Primary prides itself on having a family atmosphere and no wonder, because at the moment there are just 13 pupils, aged four to 11, on roll.
Contrast that to its hey-day when the number of local farms and families ensured many more children attended the remote school.
Changing demographics, not least in agriculture, have had a key effect.
Headmaster Ian Cookson, who is also head of another small school, Winmarleigh CE and splits his time between the two, notes that on the surrounding Bleasdale estate, there were once 26 farms and now there are just six.
You’ve only got to visit them to see the huge advantage of being educated in such an amazing environmentIan Cookson - Headmaster
“When people say small schools are like a big family it can get a bit corny, but actually my two small schools really are – it’s a really nice atmosphere and because they are both church aided schools you can be quite open about your own personal faith and you hope that will have a positive impact on the school community.”
You’ve only got to visit them to see the huge advantage of being educated in such an amazing environment.
The school leaflet boasts: “We offer a caring small school setting based on Christian values in the beautiful Forest of Bowland.”
Staff aim to take advantage of the school’s unique environment and are determined that youngsters will not feel they grow up disadvantaged by geographical separation from larger communities – youngsters attend weekly swimming sessions at Garstang pool, receive weekly specialist PE and sports coaching and also, alongside pupils from several other local small schools, enjoy being coached in a range of sports at either Myerscough College or Garstang Community Academy.
Those with long memories can recall when falling rolls meant that numerous small Lancashire schools – in rural locations ranging from Ribchester and Hurst Green to Downham, had to close.
The school, a hidden gem in terms of location, poses challenges for a new generation – how can its unique resources and attributes be shared with a wider community?
It was a question acknowledged by local MP Eric Ollerenshaw when he paid a visit to the school and praised the advantages such child centred education brings.
“You’ve only got to visit them to see the huge advantage of being educated in such an amazing environment.
“It’s education is second to none – looking at a gem up here in the hills...it’s an amazing start in life.”
He asks might it be worth exploring the whole issues of transport to such small schools.In essence should youngsters be brought to Bleasdale to benefit from the opportunities the school offers, rather than build extensions on overcrowded schools elsewhere?
Eric, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, said: “It’s trying to get some of the opportunities for people growing up in an urban environment to get an education in this kind of rural environment. There’s a massive bus operation in terms of faith schools across the patch. It’s this huge potential in these village schools. I want to see it built on and the opportunity shared with more people. That means better transport - school transport particularly.”
It was acknowledged that Lancashire County Council has always been “very supportive” of all its schools. But those with long memories will recall how falling rolls led to the closure of many small schools across Lancashire decades ago. and more recently, the church school at Out Rawcliffe closed in 2013.
Bleasdale school has strong links with the neighbouring St Eadmer’s church Vicar, Team Rector and school governor Rev. Stephen Cooper acknowledges the site is remote – at its last census there were just 178 people in the parish, but says that despite not having a four wheeled drive car, he has never failed to get through.