AS leading headteachers again warn today, there is invariably far more to rural school than pupil numbers – the headline benchmark that is used to determine their funding and future.
Such schools, including many in Yorkshire, are the heartbeat of the community – the focal point of the village, and social activities, that are enjoyed by local families and others.
Once the school shuts, it is not just pupils who lose out but all those groups, such as the Women’s Institute, Cubs and Brownies to cite three examples, who also make use of the facilities. And so it goes on as the villages in question become a less attractive proposition for young families at a time when there’s a desire to encourage people to live in the countryside.
These matters are not straightforward – one reason why some rural schools have shut is that they have been unable to recruit suitable teachers – but there should be a presumption that local councils, or other authorities, will only close schools as a last resort rather than an easy target when making cuts.
However today’s report by the National Association of Head Teachers, whose president Judy Shaw teaches at a small infant school in Sowerby Bridge, is a reminder at the extent to which countryside issues have been marginalsed, the current general election campaign being a case in point. With 3,475 schools having less than 150 pupils on their roll, this is a national issue – the NAHT fears that nearly half could be at potential risk of closure – and all political parties need a rural action plan if they’re to claim that they have the whole country’s interests at heart.