Small rural schools in the crosshairs

Helen Flynn's picture
The threatened school closure in Kettlewell, North Yorkshire, is contrary to so many aspects of Government policy, it is ridiculous that closure should even be suggested by NYCC.

1.The current Government Education White paper makes great noises about the need to increase attainment. The evidence shows that smaller schools consistently out-perform larger schools in terms of results. The Commission for the Countryside reported in 2005 using DfES figures that schools with 100 or less on roll, including very small schools, did better than larger schools. So why does it make sense to shut down small schools, from an attainment point of view? Surely it is the value for money we should be looking at, not the absolute spend.

2. Planning research has shown that costed against the tax-paying base, major local authority services like education cost least in the smallest communities and most in the largest, as the school is often the only return for village tax-payers on money otherwise spent largely in the towns.

3.This Government aims to be the greenest ever. But in a climate of ever-increasing fuel costs and climate change, the extra bill parents may face on car journeys—especially when after-school activities are considered—and the increase in carbon footprint of extra journeys, cannot be consistent with stated Government aims.

4.David Cameron is fond of his ‘Big Society’ idea, but how does losing arguably the single greatest community asset in a rural area chime with the greater community participation that his cherished ‘Big Society’ envisages? Talk about the ‘waste’ created by the last Government abounds. But what about leaving a public investment to waste in a small community upon which the community has an absolute dependence? Does that present value for taxpayer money?

Of course this policy, if it goes ahead, could be incredibly short-sighted, given the increase in primary school places that is anticipated demographically across the whole country by 2015. What happens when we haven’t actually got enough school places to meet demand?

No one is denying that savings have to be made at local and national levels. But closing small rural schools will surely only prove to be a zero-sum game, with rural communities losing out massively.
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 16/01/2011 - 19:52

It does seem a shame, the school looks rather idyllic in the picture, but the council claims it will only have 15 pupils soon. Is that sustainable? There's something rather wonderful about these schools though: I have seen a few and they really are more than schools, but often the heart of a community. Has Kettlewell suffered from people buying second homes there? It looks like the kind of place that might...

Helen Flynn's picture
Sun, 16/01/2011 - 22:52

The point is that it is the only rural primary school within a huge geographical area and if it is not there, then the chance of sustainable rural communities becomes threatened. There is an 'absolute' need for small rural primaries, because without them issues like food security (ie attracting younger people to become farmers) become extremely problematical.
So unless we want all highly rural areas to become retirement communities, you have to bite the bullet and provide small schools.
Economies of scale kind of go out of the window when looking at areas such as those that Kettlewell serves.
I had hoped we had gone beyond the 'one size fits all' culture, and with the best will in the world you cannot compare an urban area with a highly rural one.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Mon, 17/01/2011 - 11:08

I see what you mean now Helen. The council does seem to be short-sighted in this instance.

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