Tiny rural North Yorkshire school which was saved from closure rated as inadequate by Ofsted

A school with just 29 pupils which was saved from closure was placed into special measures just months later - prompting an expert team being parachuted in to help it recover.

New teachers, Mrs Hunter and Mrs Stephenson, put the finishing touches to the classroom facelift. Photo: Submit

A consultation was launched by North Yorkshire County council in February to close Clapham Church of England Primary School in Craven, principally over dwindling pupil numbers and financial pressures which meant it could no longer afford a headteacher.

A passionate campaign was launched and at the 11th hour councillors voted in April to keep the school open with an intensive action plan to turn it's fortunes around.

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But now a crack team has been rushed in from Bradford as a report released on Wednesday showed the previously outstanding school had been rated as inadequate by Ofsted.

Governors and community volunteers painting classroom one at Clapham school in preparation for the new term, after it was saved from closure. Photo: Submit

In the report of the inspection, which took place in June, it said: "There has been a significant decline in the standard of education provided for pupils. Leaders have not been effective in reversing or halting this decline."

It said the curriculum was poorly planned and pupils' progression was "weak".

Inspectors noted teachers were passionate about teaching the culture of the Yorkshire Dales and were specialists in music and physical education, but this was not enough to stop them branding the school with the lowest possible rating.

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Parents and residents who fought to keep Clapham Primary School open celebrate after the county council meeting. Photo: JPIMedia

The county council said it had now brokered leadership arrangements with the Priestley Academy Trust and brought in an executive head teacher, Mathew Atkinson, who is current head at Westbourne Primary School in Bradford and a local leader of Education.

He is said to be experienced in working in small rural schools and leading schools out of special measures.

Mr Atkinson will direct developments at Clapham with the support of a new Head of School, Adam Kay, who has been seconded from his post as Deputy Head at Westbourne.

The county council has also appointed two new full-time teachers to Clapham and the governing body has been reconstituted.

County councillor Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Education and Skills, said: "Considerable investment and energy has been expended in setting up these arrangements in recent months which we believe will take the school forward to provide the high quality teaching and learning we want for all our children.

“The county council is committed to the sustainability of North Yorkshire’s rural communities and to supporting its village schools whenever possible – proven by the fact we have more small rural schools with 50 or fewer pupils than any other county in England. But we must ensure that our schools provide the best education possible whatever their size, so in Clapham we are all pulling together to that end.”

Clapham was the 10th small school in North Yorkshire with an uncertain future. Many have now closed.

It started in Horton-in-Ribblesdale in 2017. Parent governors, faced with closure, stepped in to hire their own headteacher.

By the time the school closed, pupils numbers had fallen to just 12.

Then it was Drax, then Rathmell, Ingleby Arncliffe, Skipton Ings, Swainby and Potto.

Burnt Yates, near Harrogate, followed, then the future of West Burton was thrown into doubt.

But a spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said there were no other ongoing consultations over school closures.

Marilyn Galpin, Clapham’s acting chair of governors, said: “The new leadership has been working very effectively with governors over the summer break and has reached out to the community action group for help in several areas. The leadership has a genuine, can-do attitude and this has reinvigorated support from the community.”

Mr Atkinson, wrote in a letter to families: “Governors, together with the local authority and the Diocese had already identified many of the areas that Ofsted has highlighted as areas for improvement. Staff care deeply about the pupils and families of Clapham Church of England Primary School and we will work together to ensure that children receive the high-quality education that they deserve and that all children are supported to reach their potential. We hope that you, as parents and carers, will continue to support us with this aim.”

The county council will now work with the Diocese and the Regional Schools Commissioner over the next year to explore arrangements for the school into the long-term.

“The Ofsted judgement is obviously disappointing and finding the right path is vital for a sustainable future,” said Richard Noake, Diocesan Director of Education.

Zoe Richardson, Chair of the Friends of Clapham School, said: “Parents of children at the school see the Ofsted findings as drawing a line under the past challenges and pointing a way forward. The report on the school last year does not come as a surprise; we were told the school was no longer outstanding when it was threatened with closure and recognise the challenges small rural schools face.

“We now expect the governors, the new school leadership and the local authority to bring about the improvements that Ofsted calls for. The school has already made many positive changes since the inspection and we see the report as a route-map for the school to return to its former strength.”