School with 12 pupils faces closure

A small school in rural North Yorkshire, which has just 12 pupils on the roll and faces hefty financial deficits, looks set to be the seventh in the county to close in the past year.

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A consultation over the proposed closure of Harrogate’s Burnt Yates School had been launched at the start of the year as authorities warned its future was not viable. Now, as North Yorkshire County Council agrees to publish closure notices after failing to find an alternative option, parents have spoken of their sorrow at hearing the news.

“It’s so sad to hear,” said Linda Smith, whose two children attend the school. “It’s a child’s education that is affected and a community being destroyed in the process.”

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The council said in a report to its executive committee that the school had been rated inadequate by Ofsted in 2016 and placed in special measures. Its pupil numbers began to fall, from 28 in October 2016 to 18 a year later when amalgamation proposals were put forward. In January this year, when consultations over its future were launched, pupil numbers had fallen to just 12. This impacted heavily on its finances, the authority warned, with the school facing deficits of £78,000 next academic year and £76,900 the year after. And while attempts had been made to find an academy sponsor, these were unsuccessful as were amalgamation proposals, and a formal consultation was launched in January.

Now, the authority has agreed to publish statutory decision notices over its closure, with representations received until April 19. A final decision will be taken on May 22. The authority has also agreed to write to MPs and the regional schools commissioner over rules which mean schools, when rated Inadequate, must convert to academies when it so hard for rural schools to do so.

There is “inevitable sadness” over such measures, officers said, but “extensive” support had been given, from support plans to 
governance reviews and helping appoint a temporary headteacher.

“The responses to the consultation process have failed to identify a viable alternative option that would secure the school’s future,” the report concluded. “Closure of the school would be in the best interests of the children at the school and the future education of pupils in the area.”

Coun Nathan Hull, who represents Lower Nidderdale at Harrogate Borough Council and whose own children attend, said: “We are bitterly disappointed. It’s been going for 268 years - it’s the heart of the community.”

The axe hanging over the school had resulted in its downfall, he said, with parents feeling they had no alternative but to take their children out.

“It’s not going to be financially viable, if the children are leaving,” he said. “I’m heartbroken for the children, who love that school, for staff, families and for the village.”

Burnt Yates school is the seventh school in North Yorkshire to have faced closure in the past year. The County Council says such decisions are not taken lightly, adding that it is “very aware of the crucial role village schools play in the life of their communities”. The authority, lobbying Government over better funding for small schools, has previously warned that reserves are starting to be eaten into .

“We fully recognise that where possible children should be educated locally in a school that provides high quality education,” the authority has stated.

“To maintain local provision we have done a great deal in recent years to broker and support school partnerships and federations to maintain the sustainability of small schools.”