Parents in Horton-in-Ribblesdale join forces to fight closure of village school

Pupils, parents, and supporters at Horton-in-Ribblesdale CE Primary School who are fighting against the closure.
Pupils, parents, and supporters at Horton-in-Ribblesdale CE Primary School who are fighting against the closure.

Parents and villagers in Horton-in-Ribblesdale have joined together in a bid to fight the closure of their primary school.

The school, founded in 1725, has served generations of families in the Yorkshire Dales.

Jonty and Nicky Rhodes, with their two children Esther, 9, and Edward, 7, who are fighting against the closure of their school, and only 18 months ago this family moved into the village because of the school.

Jonty and Nicky Rhodes, with their two children Esther, 9, and Edward, 7, who are fighting against the closure of their school, and only 18 months ago this family moved into the village because of the school.

But its future is now under threat, and parents fear its closure will rip the community apart.

Parents have launched a campaign to save the Craven school, which had 18 pupils in September when consultation over the closure was announced.

But pupil numbers have already dwindled to 15 amid the uncertainty, and there is currently no headteacher or deputy head at the school.

Children are taught in two classes by two part-time teachers and a supply teacher.

Horton-In-Ribblesdale C of E Primary School, which could close next year.

Horton-In-Ribblesdale C of E Primary School, which could close next year.

The primary school is rated outstanding by Ofsted and all pupils gaining the required standard in maths, writing and reading in the latest available statistics.

But North Yorkshire County Council and the Diocese of Leeds and Bradford say the school is no longer financially viable and that it needs more children to survive.

Nicky Rhodes, whose seven-year-old son Edward and nine-year-old daughter Esther are at the school, said: “This school once stood as part of a five-strong chain along Ribblesdale built to educate Ribble children.

“Slowly but surely these small schools have vanished.”

Mrs Rhodes said children would face a commute of up to 12,000 miles a year in order to stay with friends, or resettlement in new schools where they know no one.

She added: “The ‘powers’ are very keen to assure us that this closure is ‘the best thing for the children’. They have not travelled these tiny roads through the floods that maroon our village during the winter.”

Mrs Rhodes moved to the area with husband Jonty and their children around 18 months ago, impressed with the quality of the Church of England school, which she says is ‘the heart of the community.’

She said: “My two race to school every day. They have blossomed here. It is the heart of our community. It is where we meet, chat, learn news, pass on information.

“Our older generation come to join the children every other week for lunch – the children serve and then sit with them. Stories are shared between old and young.

“The children are happy, they love the school. When we moved here the school was one of the deciding factors.

“Without it the children and the villagers lose contact and young families won’t move here.”

The fight against the closure has the support of Carl Lis, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, who has urged the governors and North Yorkshire County Council to reconsider.

“The closure of the school would have a significant detrimental impact on the viability of the community. The national park has a population that is already significantly older than the national average,” he said in a letter to the council.

“As communities lose schools, so it becomes increasingly unlikely that they can hold on to, or attract, families with young children – creating a vicious circle in which services continue to decline.”

He added there were plans to identify sites for new affordable housing in villages like Horton which the closure of the school would undermine.

Governors meet on November 16 to make a final decision.

If they decide to proceed with closure, a decision will be made by North Yorkshire County Council in January to close the school next April – two weeks before the Year 6 children would sit their SATs.

A North Yorkshire County Council spokesman said: “Although the school has collaborated with Austwick and Clapham primary schools in the area, governors believe that the school in the long term will not be able to provide the social and educational breadth and quality that children require and will struggle to be financially sustainable.”

“We, along with the Diocese of Leeds, are supporting the governors in their decision to consult on closure,” said County Coun Arthur Barker, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Schools. “We do this with a very heavy heart. Nobody likes to see the closure of a village school and North Yorkshire works very hard with its small schools to find sustainable solutions to keep them going.

“We have supported Horton-in-Ribblesdale to find alternative arrangements but sadly these have not worked out and our priority must be the children and their entitlement to the highest quality of teaching and learning throughout their schooling.”

A report reflecting the views expressed in a recent consultation will be produced for the governors, who then meet on November 16 to decide whether to publish statutory notices and proposals to progress with the closure.

If they do so, there would then be a 28-day representations period, which would be a further opportunity for parents and other stakeholders to present their views.

If governors decide to proceed with closure, a decision will be made by North Yorkshire County Council in January to close Horton-in-Ribblesdale next April.

Parents have set up a website at www.friendsofhortonschool.co.uk and also a Facebook page.