North Yorkshire County Council decided today to close Horton-in-Ribblesdale CE Primary School at the end of the school year.
In making this decision the council agreed to amend a previous recommendation to close at Easter and thereby enable the children to continue through to the end of the summer term.
Governors have appointed a headteacher on an interim basis and it is hoped this appointment can now extend to the end of the 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.
Numbers are projected to fall further to 10 in October and eight in October 2018.
“This has been a very difficult decision for the Council” said Coun 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.”
The governing body and officers from the county council and diocese have explored alternatives to the closure of the school but no other school currently is prepared to enter into a federation with Horton.
It is considered that there is 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.
The fundamental issues of very low numbers, leading to lack of curriculum breadth and social experiences for pupils remain therefore the overriding concern.
Coun 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.”
Although the school has identified a premises saving of £2,000 per annum for the next 3 years, with 10 children of mainstream school age forecast to be on roll next October, there would be a deficit of £65,710 to carry forward to the end of 18/19.
Moreover the government’s proposed new funding arrangements are unlikely to make any significant difference to the school’s projected budget deficit.
The driver is still pupil numbers, so funding would still reduce as pupil numbers fall.
The most recent Ofsted inspection was in December 2010 which deemed Horton to be outstanding.
At this time there were 36 pupils on roll. However, as numbers have fallen further the council, along with the diocese, believes that pupils will not have access to the full range of experiences they need for outstanding education, particularly opportunities for working and playing with children their own age.
There is now only one child in key stage 1 and no new reception children joined the school in September.
Only 35 per cent of families in Horton’s catchment currently send their children to the school.
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.”