Arkengarthdale Primary School set to close

The former Arkengarthdale Primary School.

Arkengarthdale Church of England Primary School is set to shut after the roll fell to just eight children.

Governors of the school near Langthwaite have voted unanimously to seek to consult on the school’s closure.

The governing body has written to North Yorkshire’s director of the children and young people’s service, Stuart Carlton, to request the county council begin consulting on a proposal to close the school at the end of the current academic year.

Chair of governors, Charles Cody, has met with staff and parents today, and said numbers had have fallen to an unsustainable level.

“We have no option but to seek the school’s closure from the end of the school year in the best interests of the children currently attending,” said Mr Cody.

“We take this step with very heavy hearts as nobody wants to see the closure of this village school, which will have been with us for 360 years, but we have to be realistic.

“Currently there are eight children on roll and this number will fall to just five by 2019/20. We simply do not have numbers of children in the dale and the area to keep this school open.

“This is a good school and we have maintained a great curriculum for these children in collaboration with Richmond Methodist primary school, but we also have to keep in mind the crucial importance for children of social interaction and the educational benefits of learning with a peer group.

“With just five children this is not sustainable and would cost us £180,000 to keep the school open.”

It is likely that approval to consult on Arkengarthdale school’s closure will be decided by the county council executive next January.

Stuart Carlton said the governing body’s decision was incredibly sad, but taken in the best interests of the school’s current children.

He said: “North Yorkshire County Council is only too aware of the crucial role village schools play in the life of their communities and very committed to their support.

“The fact the county has over 50 schools with fewer than 50 pupils is a sign of this commitment. Indeed North Yorkshire has more small schools than any other authority in England.

“We have done everything possible to support the school and its governors to sustain school provision for the dale.

“The governors know all their families extremely well and are very knowledgeable about the area, but it appears there simply are not the children out there for the foreseeable future to keep this school going.

“Should consultation be approved there will be opportunity for stakeholders to express their views on the overall situation as part of the required process and before any final decision is taken.”

For children currently attending Arkengarthdale, Reeth primary school, three and a half miles away, is the nearest alternative.

“Reeth is also a very good school so we see no reason why the transition for children should not be wholly positive.

“We are supporting parents all the way to make a good transition.”

The governing body decision to write to the county council comes only days after plans by the Upper Dales Community Land Trust for the very first social housing in Arkengarthdale were approved by the Yorkshire Dales National Park planning committee.

County Cllr John Blackie, local member for the Upper Dales and chair of the trust, said the plans were intended to provide housing for young families.

“However, he has reluctantly accepted it will be impossible to fight to keep the school open given the very low numbers on roll predicted for the next two years.

He said: “In 21 years of being the County Councillor for the Upper Dales this is the first of the seven primary schools here that we appear in danger of losing and I very much hope it will be the last.

“Arkengarthdale Primary School is a centre of educational excellence, and has been an institution faithfully serving its deeply rural community for 360 years, but sadly the children who have graced its classrooms and corridors over its distinguished history are no longer present in the Dale.

“We had hoped that the 4 affordable houses to rent that won planning approval last week would provide some new entrants to the school once they were built but alas it seems it will be too late; but at least the Dale will benefit from having some young families in its midst.”

He added: “All credit to all those involved with the School for trying their very best to keep it open and I am grateful to the County Council for its patience in waiting to see if numbers would recover.  This is a black day for the Upper Dales.”