St Hilda’s Primary School, Ampleforth: Calls to save rural Yorkshire primary school with just 13 pupils rejected by councillors

Leading councillors for a county which has seen the most rural primary school closures across England in recent years have unanimously rejected calls to save a rural primary school which has seen its roll fall to 13 pupils.

A meeting of North Yorkshire Council’s executive heard that while Ampleforth residents had mounted a concerted campaign to save St Hilda’s Primary School from closure, the decision of most parents in the catchment area to send their children elsewhere had sealed its fate.

The executive’s latest decision to push forward a school closure follows a Freedom of Information Act request revealing the county has accounted for a high proportion of the rural primary school closures across England over the past six years.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The comments come weeks after moves to close Fountains Earth Primary School in Nidderdale were approved and follows councillors being told last autumn that some 16 primary schools had closed since 2018.

St Hilda’s Primary School in AmpleforthSt Hilda’s Primary School in Ampleforth
St Hilda’s Primary School in Ampleforth

The majority of the closed schools have been in village locations such as Horton in Ribblesdale, Rathmell, Ingleby Arncliffe, Swainby, Ings, Burnt Yates, Arkengarthdale, Clapham, Kell Bank, Drax, Weaverthorpe, Hovingham and Skelton.

The Department of Education said over the same six years a total of 33 rural council-run primary schools had closed across the whole of England.

The authority’s executive member for education, Councillor Annabel Wilkinson said it was clear that there was a lot of support for the school and that it held a special place in the community, but low pupil numbers made it challenging for schools to operate within budget.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She said North Yorkshire faced a difficult situation with some 120 schools with fewer than 100 pupils on roll, and about 50 of those schools had fewer than 50 pupils.

However, Ampleforth councillor Steve Mason said St Hilda’s was a unique case as it still had pupils and local people saw a pipeline of pupils coming forward, and although both he and the community believed the school’s closure was a “done deal”, its fortunes could be revived with the council’s support.

He said the school’s current pupil shortage was probably linked to Ryedale District Council having planned for too few houses to be built in the village, but it remained on the borderline for being viable in a county with one of the highest rates nationally for school closure.

The Liberal Democrat councillor added: “It’s time as a council you need to stop, let’s support some of these schools and help them rebuild. At the moment it just seems domino effect, school closed, school closed, school closed across North Yorkshire.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Stuart Carlton, the council’s director of children and young people’s services, emphasised the county was seeing a surplus of school places and the number of pupils at St Hilda’s in September was set to fall to ten in September, but there were some 94 children in the catchment area.

He added parents were selecting other schools despite St Hilda’s having consistently been awarded good ratings by Ofsted

Mr Carlton said: “The community is choosing not to use that school because they have choices elsewhere.”

The meeting heard pumping the council’s resources into St Hilda’s to keep it running while it had too few pupils would be unfair on other schools across the county.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Executive member for children’s services Janet Sanderson said the school’s closure was “as frustrating for the authority as the community it serves”.

She said: “No one, least of all the local authority, wants to see the closure of a small rural school, but we have to move with the evidence presented.”

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.