Crisis facing North Yorkshire's rural schools as they fight funding deficits

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MORE than two-thirds of schools in one area of North Yorkshire are predicted to be in deficit in two years, councillors have been told.

A meeting of a North Yorkshire County Council committee heard while spare funding at schools across the county was dwindling, school funding would be hardest pressed in the rural northern district.

The small school in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, closed in August last year.

The small school in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, closed in August last year.

Members of the Richmondshire constituency committee were told that as more of the council-run schools became financially challenged, their abilities to stay out of special measures would be reduced, leading to more schools having to become academies.

They said it was “deeply unfair” the council then had to pick up the deficits of schools that are forced to become academies.

The council’s Conservative leaders say their schools are facing financial crisis because Government schools in neighbouring local authorities receive considerably more per-pupil than schools in North Yorkshire.

The meeting heard that while the council appreciated the Government was facing complex issues over Brexit, it would push for more equitable funding.

Gary Fielding, the authority’s strategic resources director, said while schools had been “pleading poverty” in the years before 2015, the drop in total balances schools in the county had seen since had been stark.

North Yorkshire’s local authority maintained schools had a collective balance of £33.3m in 2015/16, but the following year this fell to £25.2m and in £2017/18 to £17.9m. Schools across the county have predicted they will have a collective balance of just £3.7m this year.

Mr Fielding said it was thought secondary schools would face the greatest financial plight, setting a collective deficit of £661,000 this year, where in 2012 they had had a £12.2m balance. Primary schools are expected to set a collective balance of £4.7m this year.

He said: “In Richmond constituency we are expecting 17 schools to be in deficit this year, but by March 2021 we’re expecting there to be 36 schools in deficit. That’s over two-thirds of the schools, so it more than doubles from the position at the moment.

“That is very worrying. An average primary deficit over that time will go from £34,000 to £64,000 and for the average secondary school from a deficit of £373,000 to £983,000.”

The Yorkshire Post reported in December that the crisis over the future of small schools across North Yorkshire has been brewing for some time.

The first, in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, closed in August last year. Then it was Drax, then Rathmell, Ingleby Arncliffe, Skipton Ings, Swainby and Potto. Burnt Yates near Harrogate followed, then the future of West Burton was thrown into doubt followed by a threat to close Arkengarthdale School due to dwindling pupil numbers.

Arkengarthdale School has eight primary school pupils. This year this will fall to five, and then potentially to three. Now a consultation over its closure has been launched.

In December the Church of England’s senior education lead called for a rural strategy to protect education.

Children’s futures cannot not run on the logic of a supermarket, the church warns, schools serving the greatest number of students in the most economic way.

North Yorkshire County Council said at the time it was working to maintain the life and economic viability of rural areas. It is also lobbying central Government, over funding the diverse needs of a largely rural area.