The new headteacher of a North Yorkshire village primary is bucking the trend by expanding despite many rural schools either being forced to close or have an executive head due to dwindling numbers and financial pressures.
Hampsthwaite Church of England Primary, on the outskirts of Harrogate, has recently opened a new purpose-built, state-of-the-art classroom, which has been built within the school grounds.
It has also increased its pupil intake to meet the demand of families moving into new housing developments in the village.
Headteacher Amy Ross, who lives in nearby Ripon, has taken up the reigns following the departure of the previous head Andrew Phoenix, who was at the helm for almost seven years.
Mrs Ross said village schools play an integral role in communities as they help to forge links and bring residents together.
She said: “This is definitely the case in Hampsthwaite. It is a really close-knit community and we have big links with the surrounding areas at this school, which is lovely to be part of and I got a real sense of this when I started. “Everybody has made themselves known. We have a very dedicated staff team here and the PTA is incredible.”
Mrs Ross, who was deputy head at Knaresborough St John’s Primary for four years, acknowledged the increasing pressures faced by schools, which are behind many of the closures, including reduced budgets.
She said: “At the end of the day, all any teacher wants is to provide an outstanding education for their children and be part of a community school where this is at the centre of what they do.”
This term, for the first time, the school has increased the number of its classes to five. Some of the year groups are mixed but there are relatively low class numbers across cohorts.Mrs Ross said: “This shows how dedicated we are to expanding whilst at the same time, still ensuring that we do not lose our ‘family-like’ feel”.
“By providing the extra classroom, we feel we now have spaces for children moving into the village and locality. I firmly believe that children should be able to go to a school within their community.”
Also attributed to the school’s continuing success, Hampsthwaite’s nursery expanded its opening hours two years ago following the launch of the Government’s 30 hours of free childcare scheme.
Mrs Ross, who has two children, aged five and nine, said: “It enables them to start their learning journey at the school from an early age and helps with the transition into school.”
Helping to expand the nursery is a key aim for Mrs Ross this year, as well as launching new wellbeing initiatives for both staff and pupils.
But crucially, the new headteacher wants to ensure the school remains at the heart of the village.
“It’s about connection. It’s about being part and parcel of a community rather than just an add-on,” she said.
Wave of closures of rural schools
Earlier this month, The Yorkshire Post revealed that Clapham C of E Primary School, which was saved from closure in April, was placed into special measures just months later – prompting an expert team being parachuted in to help it recover.
Clapham, which has just 29 pupils, 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 closures.