Dales disaster as ‘last school in the valley’ fights for survival

Pupils, parents, and supporters at the school in Horton-in-Ribblesdale who are fighting against the closure. Picture: James Hardisty.
Pupils, parents, and supporters at the school in Horton-in-Ribblesdale who are fighting against the closure. Picture: James Hardisty.
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SINCE IT was founded in 1725, Horton-in-Ribblesdale Primary School has served generations of families in the Yorkshire Dales.

But what is described as the last school in the valley is now under threat, with parents fearing its closure will rip the community apart.

Once it was one of five primaries in the deeply rural area, but all have now vanished leaving just Horton with its 15 pupils.

Parents have launched a campaign to save the Craven school which had 18 pupils in September when consultations over the closure were announced. But pupil numbers have dwindled already amid the uncertainty, and there is also currently no headteacher at the school.

The latest nail in the coffin for small rural schools comes as the primary is rated outstanding by Ofsted and despite all pupils gaining the required standard in maths, writing and reading in the latest available statistics.

Nicky Rhodes, who has two children 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, each fighting to the last, each being told to send their children to Horton or Settle.

“Consequently our catchment travels high up to the Ribblehead pass.

“These children and their families either face commutes 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, through the uncleared snow.”

Mrs Rhodes only moved to the area around 18 months ago, impressed with the quality of the Church of England school and says it is quite simply the heart of the community.

She feels the school does not fit in with the academy model favoured by the Government, but a large primary taking in children from across the area would.

She added: “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 fight against the closure has the support of Carl Lis, the 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.

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

The consultation about the potential closure of the school will close tomorrow.