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Future of Wensleydale schools uncertain again after lack of 'community support'

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The future of three Wensleydale schools has once again plunged into uncertainty amid a lack of community support for several options aimed at tackling low pupil numbers and finance issues.

Governors of Bainbridge and West Burton Church of England primary schools and Askrigg Voluntary Controlled primary school, which are federated as a single body, have decided to take more time to consider plans for securing education in the dale.

They have been working with support from North Yorkshire County Council and the Diocese of Leeds to address the challenges and last month it was revealed a range of options had been created which would allow them to stay open. The options involved “significant operational change” reducing the number of class groups across the three sites.

However, the county council said that following a governors meeting this week, feedback raised “complex issues and made it clear that none of the options presented had sufficient community support, either because parents were unhappy they required too much transport between school sites, or would result in unsatisfactory class sizes and structures”.

As a result, governors have decided to postpone a decision until after the Easter holidays and have written to parents explaining that a further option is being explored.

They intend to make a final decision on Wednesday, May 9 to be implemented in September.

Derek Walpole, the federation chair of governors, said: “We feel it is crucial to take into account this very full and detailed community engagement on the schools’ future. We face very real and complex challenges in providing a sustainable and high quality education in Wensleydale and it is therefore vital that we respond carefully to what we have heard and avoid a hasty decision.”

The county council has campaigned Government for fairer funding for smaller rural schools.

Councillor John Blackie, member for the Upper Dales, said: “I welcome the delay in taking the final decision as it is vitally important that whatever arrangements are taken forward maintain and hopefully increase the numbers on roll at each school, as this will provide a much greater degree of certainty for their future.”