North Yorkshire school set to close due to young families being priced out of nearby villages

A school which has been rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and is preparing to celebrate its 200th anniversary looks set to close, partly due to young families being priced out of the villages it serves.

Kell Bank C of E Primary School
Kell Bank C of E Primary School

Kell Bank C of E Primary School, between Healey and Fearby, near Masham, has become the latest in a string of small, rural schools to ask North Yorkshire County Council to consult over its closure after seeing its roll fall from 45 pupils in 2013 to just six, despite being awarded Ofsted’s highest accolade.

The move comes just two weeks after the council’s commission into rural issues heard about the increasing financial challenges of sustaining rural schools amid falling rolls, given that the national school funding formula at base is tied to pupil numbers.

There are 361 schools across North Yorkshire with more than two-in-three, situated in rural settings, such as small rural towns, villages and hamlets. The council maintains the highest number of small schools in the country, with 51 schools with fewer than 50 pupils.

A council report into the potential closure of Kell Bank Primary states while the school has the capacity for up to 50 children, there are only 11 primary aged children living in the catchment area.

It states forecasts indicated pupil numbers would not recover significantly in the longer term and may reduce still further and there was unlikely to be any significant new housing in Fearby and Healey as they had not been designated for such development in the Local Plan.

Jeff Loveday, chair of the school’s governing board, said the decision to request the council begins a consultation over its closure at the end of this academic year had been unanimous and had been made with a “heavy heart”.

He said: “We have been faced with dwindling numbers at our school over the past few years as young families are finding it increasingly difficult to stay in our rural villages and with the ever increasing costs of suitable housing, the fact is there are very few young families remaining.”

In an attempt to arrest falling pupil numbers, the school has worked with the Federation of Snape Community and Thornton Watlass primary schools, sharing an executive headteacher, and the three schools have maximised opportunities to bring together pupils to share activities.

Mr Loveday added the whole school community had “given more than 100 per cent of their energy over the years into trying to keep the school viable, but there has now come a time when we have to admit that with six children at school, we cannot continue”.

Chairman of the parish council, Brian Gregg, said settlements such as Fearby, which was recorded in William the Conqueror’s Doomsday Book, were becoming “retirement villages” for people with index-linked pensions.

He said while the school had survived previous moves to close it due to low pupil numbers, there were numerous other reasons why the school’s future looked bleaker then before, such as the effect of school league tables and increasing bureaucracy.

Coun Gregg said the fourth generation of his family had been set to attend the school in the next couple of years, but they would now have to look elsewhere as the closure “looks inevitable”.

He said: “We used to think smaller schools were an advantage, but parents now want their children to be in sports teams.”

Sean McCourt, who runs the Black Swan pub in Fearby and whose family have attended the village school for three generations, said the age profile of residents of both Fearby and Healey had been weighted towards older people for some time.

He said recent years had seen parents ferry in their children to the school from outside the area, but that had stopped. Mr McCourt said if the school used some of the over-capacity at Masham’s primary, it could become viable again, and said it wasn’t realistic for it continue in its current form.

Mr McCourt said: “From an emotional point of view the place shouldn’t close. I certainly enjoyed going there. But from a budgetary perspective it no longer makes sense.”

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