Protect our rural schools, says teaching union

RURAL SCHOOLS struggling to survive under squeezed budgets are under threat and should be given protected status, a teaching union has warned.

Horton-In-Ribblesdale C of E Primary School, is one of six North yorkshire primary schools which closed last year.
Horton-In-Ribblesdale C of E Primary School, is one of six North yorkshire primary schools which closed last year.

Delegates at the National Education Union (NUT section) conference in Brighton today said they wanted to see more funding for rural schools to help protect their existence and provide a quality education for pupils.

The conference called on the union’s executive to put pressure on the Government to “give rural schools a protected status, recognising their significance for the survival of their communities and valuing the educational offer they give to their pupils”.

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Former Scarborough headteacher Anne Swift, a previous president of the NUT from 2016-2017, said that as head of a rural village school, she had worried every year about numbers of pupils, knowing the impact it would have on issues like class sizes and workload.

“The move out of area by a family with school-age children was always a disaster,” she said. “High housing costs are leading to the depopulation of rural areas, as families cannot afford to live there.

“More and more schools are federating to avoid closure or redundancies, and although this can bring benefits in terms of sharing expertise, facilities, training and enriching the curriculum for the children, we need to consider more fully the implications for good or ill of this.”

She said she thought her area had “more sheep than people”, adding that the Government defines small schools as having less than 200 pupils and “in many shire counties that’s the majority of primary schools”.

“These schools are at the heart of their communities, but they are expensive, when compared with educating pupils in larger schools,” she said.

A motion passed by delegates said that funding based on pupils numbers meant that most rural schools with small yearly cohorts “struggle to afford staff and basics for education”.

There are almost 50 schools with fewer than 50 pupils in North Yorkshire.

North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) has lobbied the Government for fairer funding for smaller rural schools for some time, and continues to do so.

A spokeswoman said is was “committed to keeping village schools thriving whenever possible”, and has brokered and supported school partnerships and federations to ensure children can be educated locally where possible.

The Department for Education has said its national funding formula will see schools in North Yorkshire attract a 3.6 per cent increase in funding by 219-2020 - a sum of £11.7m.

But NYCC said the increase is “not enough to offset underlying financial pressures for schools”.

The spokeswoman added: “School reserves are starting to be eaten into for the first time and this reflects the reality of pressure on public sector funding.”