Governors of three Dales primary schools joined together in a federation have rejected a request by one of the schools to go it alone.
The governors of Bainbridge, Askrigg and West Burton schools say they cannot support the wishes of community members and parents at the Bishopdale school to defederate.
But the decision has prompted a warning that West Burton School is now on a “fast track to closure” because parents would move their children elsewhere amid concern about a new structure which would see the youngest travelling on busses to Bainbridge.
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Bainbridge, Askrigg and West Burton (BAWB) School Federation governors took the decision not to allow the defederation at a meeting on Wednesday night.
This decision follows a period of due diligence, with governors meeting with representatives of the West Burton community to explore their wishes to defederate.
The West Burton community started to push for defederation after the governing board decided in May to remodel the federation in order to address the challenges they face around lower pupil numbers and finances.
Governors believe that their agreed option – which followed two separate consultations and which involves nursery, reception and key stage 1 classes on the Bainbridge site with key stage 2 classes divided between Askrigg and West Burton – provided the best educational and financial advantages.
However, as many respondents from West Burton were unhappy with this decision, governors also agreed to explore the possibility of West Burton’s defederation.
“We worked very hard as a governing body to agree a sustainable solution which involves the least disruption and continues to offer a very high quality of education for the children of Wensleydale,” said Derek Walpole, the federation chair of governors.
“It was a very tough decision for governors to make and was never going to please everybody.
“This subsequent decision against defederation has also been very tough. We recognise the concern of West Burton’s parents and have listened very hard to what they have had to say.
“But we believe it is better if schools work together and we must also consider the sustainability of all three schools and what is in the best educational and social interests of children.
“We respect the decision of the governing body” said County Councillor Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Schools.
“Governors have explored the possibility of West Burton defederating with diligence and thoroughness and have listened very carefully to what people have had to say.
“The county council will continue to work with the governing body in future to continue to tackle the challenges of sustainability.”
But Cllr John Blackie, county councillor for the Upper Dales, said the BAWB governors were in “flat denial” if they thought the decision was in the best interest of the pupils.
He added: “How it can say this beggars belief as their plans are to bus children as young as four years of age 40 minutes a day, on top of the travelling to and from their homes to West Burton, often in the hostile weather we have here in the Upper Dales.
“Their decision has now put the school on a fast track to closure as they have blatantly ignored the strongest evidence that the understandable parental objection to travelling combined with the uncertainty around the future of the school will see between seven and ten pupils currently on the school roll being registered at Leyburn Primary School, and those intending to start at the school in September, up to 7 pupils, doing the same.
“A school with just 13 pupils is very vulnerable to closure. If instead it had been allowed to de-federate then there would have been 30 pupils there next term.
“The suspicion is that the BAWB board of governors always had a hidden agenda to close West Burton Primary School, so it appears they have got their own way – closure by stealth.”
Cllr Blackie said the board of governors did not feature anyone from West Burton, adding: “It is more than a pity it did not take seriously the issues raised by the shadow board for the school or we would not be facing the crisis and collapse we are today. A bad day for primary education in the Upper Dales.”
The statement by North Yorkshire County Council about the refusal to defederate begins: “The governing body of three Wensleydale primary schools has decided it cannot support the wishes of community members and parents at West Burton Church of England Primary School…”
And yet this is a federation which states on its own website that it has excellent relationships with the parents and local communities of its schools. It is sadly very obvious that over the past two years the leadership of BAWB has not listened to the parents or the community at West Burton and that it does not have excellent relationships with them.
Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, shadow governors who would have taken over the running of West Burton Primary set out their vision for the new school and financial calculations which they saw would ensure the school is viable.
A financial report into the proposed departure of West Burton Primary repared by Sally Dunn, head of finance at NYCC, predicted that the stand alone school could face a £100,000 deficit in four year.
The report stated that based on current pupil number projections, West Burton would have a “significant” revenue budget deficit which would increase to at least £100,000 in the next four years.
But the figures prepared by West Burton shadow board stated that the school’s deficit could be reduced to £6,000 a year, with shadow governors claiming they would have been able to pay back any deficits to the LEA over time and establish financial stability by 2031.