Village primary school could close

Richard Thornton's CE Primary School could close this summer.
Richard Thornton's CE Primary School could close this summer.

Burton-in-Lonsdale’s village school could be closed after its numbers dropped to just 12 pupils.

A stay of execution for Richard Thornton’s CE Primary School, which has 12 pupils – all boys – on its roll, was agreed in October following a request from its governors.

But North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) has now decided to press ahead with closure plans amid concerns about falling numbers and the absence of girls.

Statutory closure notices were due to be published this week and will be followed by a month of consultation before a final decision is made on May 27.

If agreed, the school – which has just celebrated its 160th anniversary – would officially close on August 31 and children would be moved to High Bentham Primary School.

In a bid to save the school, governors had proposed a shared headteacher role with another partner school and integrating the Burton-in-Lonsdale under-fives pre-school more closely with the primary.

But the council, while recognising the governors’ commitment to the school and its community, remained concerned about the financial viability of the proposals.

It was also concerned about the potential for increasing pupil numbers.

A report to NYCC said: “The number of children at Richard Thornton’s has been falling steadily over the last few years and there are now only 12 on roll in a school with a capacity for 90.

“Forecasts indicate that these numbers will not recover significantly in the longer term and may reduce still further.

“In these circumstances, it is difficult to preserve the quality of education.

“Under the current staffing structure the school would need to have at least 29 pupils on roll to be financially sustainable.”

The school is also predicting a budget deficit for 2014/15 of almost £30,000, which is likely to get worse if pupil numbers fail to increase.

“As numbers fall it becomes increasingly difficult, even with existing local partnerships, to provide pupils with the full range of experiences they need, particularly opportunities for working and playing with children of their own age, and for having a good gender balance,” the report said.

“It also becomes increasingly difficult to preserve the quality and breadth of education required.”

Coun Arthur Barker, executive member for schools, said: “The closure of any school, and in particular one which serves a small and rural community, is always deeply regrettable and not one which is reached lightly or hurriedly.

“North Yorkshire works extremely hard to support its small schools, but pupil numbers at Richard Thornton’s CE Primary School have reached a critical level and in such circumstances we have to consider the necessity of providing pupils with the full range of social and educational experiences they need.”

The school building does not belong to the county council, although it maintains the building.

The building is owned by trustees and if it closes, the trustees would determine whether the pre-school provider could remain on the premises, although it may be possible for the provider to find alternative premises from which to operate.