Government must “wake up” to the plight of the region’s rural communities, education chiefs have warned, with small schools facing rising challenges in a struggle to make ends meet.
Across the Yorkshire Dales, a number of rural primary schools have already closed due to falling pupil numbers, financial pressures and concerns over a quality of education.
Now, amid caution that a fairer funding deal is needed to meet crippling deficits, the leader of the area’s education authority has issued a stark warning.
“The Government needs to wake up to the plight of rural communities, and to the costs of delivering education in sparse rural areas,” said Richard Flinton, chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council.
“We have real worries about small rural secondaries. We aren’t, at the moment, looking at any closures, but we are seriously concerned about their financial position.
“There are no alternatives for these areas. We cannot afford for these schools to close because of the sheer distances pupils would have to travel.”
Neil Short, who chairs the National Association of Small Schools, said he is “well aware” of the challenge in the region, and is supporting a number of settings.
The Government has made some steps to address concerns, he said, but often this was not enough.
“We have some small schools whose entire budget for the year is smaller than the salary of some academy trusts’ chief executives,” Mr Short added.
On Saturday, The Yorkshire Post reported how leaders in the Dales are seeking a genuine collective will to deliver a new action plan to remedy a damaging exodus of young people from Dales communities.
Mr Flinton said the county council was not blind to the “wicked issue” families face, but that the school funding formula, is “completely stacked” against smaller schools.
“We would call upon the Government to be more aware of the costs faced by rural schools,” he said. “To measure the funding available against costs, and for there to be discretion by local authorities to agree lump sums.
“I don’t want to undermine the great work that schools do. We have some brilliant small schools that are facing challenge but are delivering a fantastic education.
“We also have groups of schools that are beginning to become overwhelmed by challenges around low pupil numbers and a lack of funding.”
Some Dales secondary schools are becoming “overwhelmed” under the Government’s national funding formula, Richard Flinton said.
An estimated two-thirds of schools in Richmondshire are headed for deficit, with the average secondary school set to face shortfalls nearing £1m in the coming years.
Some Dales secondaries cover an area which in a city would be populated by 87 schools, yet have half the pupils of a single urban secondary, Mr Flinton said.
The Department for Education said an extra £25m is allocated in the Government’s funding formula for small and remote schools in recognition of the challenges they face.