Rural school with no pupils to close as council boss says parents "bullied" away
Despite having an OFSTED rating of good, Fountains Earth Lofthouse CE Primary School, in Lofthouse, North Yorkshire, looks set to join a raft of other rural primaries which have closed their doors in recent years.
A year ago, the school had 15 pupils on roll, and five years ago there were around 30.
An email sent by the foundation, and seen by the Yorkshire Post, states: “The term has started at Fountains Earth Lofthouse CE Primary School with no pupils on roll.
“Unfortunately, this is not an unprecedented situation in North Yorkshire and the governing body has been looking at every possible option for the school to keep going.
“Without children there will be no future per pupil funding for the school from April 2024.
“Taking everything into account and having discussed the situation with officers at North Yorkshire Council and the Diocese of Leeds, the Governors this week took the heavy and sad decision to ask North Yorkshire Council to begin consultation on a proposal to close Fountains Earth School.
“This would be a formal process led by North Yorkshire Council that would take a number of months.”
But parish council chairman Stephen Ramsden has said he believes the dwindling numbers were the result of a systemic effort by the Upper Nidderdale Federation, which runs the school and two other nearby primaries.
He said: “The parents have been forced out of the school. They’ve had to take their children elsewhere, to other schools outside of the federation, which for them might be a half an hour each way drive, because they have no confidence or trust in the management.
“In my belief, these parents have been bullied out of the school, so they can close it.
“Trust and communication have completely broken down. The whole thing stinks. Local primary schools are the backbone of any community, especially a rural one, and for us to lose this school, the medium to long-term effects could be very dire for the whole upland community.
“The Upper Nidderdale Parish Council and the community are totally against this closure, and wish to see a change of management at the federation. We wish to see the school remain open under new management. We have no confidence in the governing of this federation.”
A statement issued by a group of former parents at the school, said: “We’re devastated to have been left with no choice but to remove our children from this federation and know all too well how our decision impacts the future of this community.
“It will remain the view of the former parents that the pending closure of Fountains Earth School is not simply about known challenges around resourcing of rural schools and pupil numbers.
“We believe it has everything to do with the leadership, governance and decision-making of the Upper Nidderdale Federation.
“Parents have a degree of choice and can tell when a school is failing its children. As a parent group, we’ve been disappointed by how unwilling the school has been to proactively communicate with us and surprised by the total lack of accountability that can exist around how a school is governed.
“There are many rural schools thriving, and that’s down to great leadership and a commitment to - and interest in - the community they serve. Very sadly, this situation has not been that.”
With the school having triggered a consultation, the process now moves to a formal phase, with a decision expected later this year.
North Yorkshire Council’s assistant director for education and skills, Amanda Newbold said: “We very much recognise the problems of falling pupil numbers at small rural schools, which is an issue affecting a number of communities in North Yorkshire.
“Sadly, there are currently no children enrolled at Fountain’s Earth CE Primary School in Lofthouse in Nidderdale.
“After a challenging time for all, the school governors have made the difficult decision to begin the formal process of applying to the council for a consultation on proposed plans to close the school.
“The request will be formally considered in November. If a consultation is given the go-ahead, it would be undertaken later this year and include a public meeting.”
The foundation has been approached for comment.