North Yorkshire County Council must do more to protect income of rural schools, says councillor

A local education authority running many schools facing financial concern must do more to protect rural schools’ income by helping them to maintain pupil numbers through ensuring a supply of affordable family housing, a high-profile councillor has claimed.

Former Richmondshire District Council leader Councillor Yvonne Peacock has urged North Yorkshire County Council to emphasise the importance of maintaining pupil numbers to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority as it forms its new Local Plan to determine the amount of housing developments in the area.

She was speaking at the the county council’s Richmondshire constituency committee following a stream of rural primary school closures in recent years due to falling pupil numbers and lack of income.

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A local education authority officers report to the meeting outlined how North Yorkshire has a number of schools that, geographically, are vital in serving their local communities, but inadequate sparsity funding and general financial pressures for smaller, rural secondary schools continued to be a significant concern.

Councillor Yvonne Peacock has urged North Yorkshire County Council to emphasise the importance of maintaining pupil numbers to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

The meeting heard some 143 local authority maintained schools in North Yorkshire, 67 per cent, have projected an in-year deficit this year and just under 20 per cent have forecast to be in deficit by March 2023.

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The authority says the county’s secondary schools are placed 138 out of 150 local authorities in terms of funding. On average, a school in North Yorkshire will receive £5,570 per pupil in 2021-22 compared to a national average of £5,935. Comparing the funding for a 1,500 pupil secondary school this equates to a difference in funding of £0.5m.

However, officers revealed the maximum level of sparsity funding that a school can achieve is increasing is increasing by £10,000 this year, so primary schools will get up to £55,000 and secondary schools up to £80,000.

Officers said the Department for Education had changed its sparsity calculation from “crow flies to road distance”, which was “helpful, particularly in the context of North Yorkshire”.

It means some 18 more schools had become eligible for sparsity funding. Officers said the changes would see the county’s schools receive about £3m more as a result.

An officer told the meeting: “That is a positive, however, we very much recognise the issue of pupil numbers at small rural schools.”

Coun Peacock described the report’s projections as “very worrying”, particularly as school revenue is largely driven by pupil numbers.

She said as property prices had recently risen rapidly in the Yorkshire Dales the issue over people owning second homes and local families being able to afford to live in the area was set to exacerbate dwindling school rolls.

The Upper Dales member added: “As a county council we must look more closely at the new Local Plan that is being developed for the Yorkshire Dales.”

The committee’s chairman, Councillor David Hugill added: “It is apparent, definitely when we are looking at planning pupil numbers, how important the local plans are not just for the built environment, but planning for educational needs.”