Small primary schools 'under threat' say headteachers

Yorkshire’s small primary schools are “under threat”, headteachers are warning, as they struggle under intense financial pressures and plummeting pupil numbers.

Clapham Primary School has just 10 pupils and is threatened with closure
Clapham Primary School has just 10 pupils and is threatened with closure

More than a third of headteachers of schools with less than 150 pupils in Yorkshire said they were worried about the closure of their school, according to a survey by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT). A lack of funding was the main cause for concern.

Failure to protect Yorkshire's small schools would mean the death of many local communities, headteachers said, as small rural schools are the last public service standing in their community. Closure would leave local groups such as the Women's Institute, Cubs and Brownies with nowhere to go.

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Judy Shaw, NAHT president and headteacher of Tuel Lane Infants School in Sowerby Bridge, which has 89 pupils, said small schools were “warm, friendly, familiar” places that “sit at the heart of the community”.

“As I stare at the figures on the spreadsheets in my office however, I can sense the threat.”

Despite £25m in additional funding set aside for small and remote schools through the National Funding Formula, core school funding is awarded on a per pupil basis, meaning that smaller schools with fewer pupils get less money.

Nationally, more than two-thirds of headteachers polled said they have cut investment in equipment for their school to try and balance budgets, while other moves include cutting the numbers or hours of teaching assistants and reducing maintenance budgets.

This comes only a couple of weeks after a North Yorkshire school with just 10 pupils was threatened with closure due to low numbers and a £250,000 funding deficit.

Last week, the governors of Clapham Church of England Primary School, which was rated inadequate following an Ofsted inspection, asked North Yorkshire County Council to hold a public consultation into its closure.

North Yorkshire has a particularly large number of small schools. As of 2018, there were 21 primary schools with fewer than 30 pupils and 51 primary schools with fewer than 50.

Stuart Carlton, North Yorkshire’s director of the Children and Young People’s Service said: “The Council’s own research shows that small schools with larger cohorts of between 35 and 60 pupils perform better at Key Stage 2 than the county average.

“Because of this, the Council is committed to keeping small schools in business.”

The council said it dedicates large amounts of officer time to supporting schools with financial advice, staff recruitment, federation arrangements, school improvement and HR advice.

Despite this, there have been eight small school closures in the county since the start of 2017

Mr Carlton added: “North Yorkshire does not take the decision lightly to close small schools. However, some of our very small schools, some of which have had fewer than six pupils at Key Stage 2, perform five per cent below the county average.”