More affordable homes need to be built if rural schools are to survive, say county council bosses amid calls from national park members for small schools to stay open.
North Yorkshire County Council said it welcomed an appeal this week by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority for support for schools in rural communities.
In response to the statement from the park authority and its members, the county council said that as an education authority and as England’s largest rural council, the authority understood “more than most” the crucial role rural schools play in the life of their communities.
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It added in a statement of its own: “It therefore goes to greater lengths than many education authorities to supporting village schools to offer quality education in the heart of their communities.
“The fact the county has nearly 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.”
The county council said it had lobbied national government strongly for better funding for the county’s schools and for small village schools in particular as the funding formula at base is tied to pupil numbers.
Falling rolls because of changing demography in rural areas, due partly to a lack of affordable housing for young families, means small schools face very tough financial challenges, it added.
“For this reason the county council also takes every opportunity to remind planning authorities like the national parks and district councils that if village schools are to survive then communities themselves must remain sustainable through a range of housing provision.
“But along with school governing bodies facing increasing concern about growing financial deficits and the ability of their schools to continue to offer a good and vibrant education, the county council has a responsibility to take those concerns seriously.
“The fundamental issue is that very low numbers lead to lack of curriculum breadth caused by overwhelming funding pressures as well as very limited social experiences for pupils. Quality and breadth of education and financial viability are not unrelated.”
County Councillor Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s executive member for school, added: “The sustainability of rural schools is a responsibility and a commitment that all must share”, said “Education and planning authorities as well as central government – we all have our part to play.”