Council appeals to Education Secretary to save 'crucial' Yorkshire village school with just 19 pupils

A local education authority which has come under fire for failing to arrest a stream of village school closures is urging the Education Secretary to reconsider a decision to close a primary which has seen its roll dwindle to 19 pupils.

The announcement comes just months after the authority’s Rural Commission called for action to halt rural school closures.

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive has agreed to appeal to Nadhim Zahawi to give Baldersy St James Primary School, near Thirsk, a 12-month stay of execution just three years after it became an academy and five years after the authority spent £400,000 of taxpayers’ money creating new classrooms.

A meeting of the council’s leading members heard the Hope Sentamu Learning Trust had successfully applied to close the school next August. Councillors were told if the closure goes ahead the school would become the first academy in the county to close.

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A spokesman for the trust has stated low pupil numbers “show no prospect of improving for many years ahead”, with predictions for demand for school places showing a steady decline until 2031/32.

The trust’s chief executive Helen Winn has said potential options, including speaking to other local multi-academy trusts, had been examined, but none were practically viable.

She said: “Due to the low intake at Baldersby St James, it has proved impossible to deliver the broad, balanced curriculum the children deserve.”

The announcement comes just months after the authority’s Rural Commission called for action to halt rural school closures, highlighting that children who attend small rural schools achieve better educational outcomes than urban children.

The meeting was told only nine children from the school’s catchment area were attending Baldersby St James, and numerous parents had taken their children elsewhere for many years, so the prospect of closure was “a consequence of parental choice”.

However, some parents and residents are battling the move, saying the school is a crucial community asset and that the decision was made behind closed doors before the school’s viability could be publicly examined.

Executive members said they felt it would be “very premature” to close the school given the exhaustive lengths the authority had recently gone to in an attempt to keep village schools open.

They highlighted how the school’s financial situation remained unclear as it was an academy, and said a lot of consultation should be undertaken before the doors of the grade II listed Victorian building close for a final time.

They agreed the closure should be delayed for 12 months to enable a credible business plan to be established.

The authority’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, said it seemed “perverse” that the council was being asked to endorse the closure of a school that it would not have considered for closure as it was already maintaining village schools with fewer pupils.

The authority’s education executive member Councillor Patrick Mulligan said the council was powerless to stop the closure as the decision would ultimately be made by the Schools Commissioner and Mr Zahawi.

He said there were sufficient school places in the area for Baldersby St James pupils to go elsewhere should the school close.