Call to halt succession of rural school closures

Arkengarthdale C of E School after its closure.

Liberal Democrats are calling on the Conservative-led North Yorkshire Council to place a moratorium on school closures until the first county-wide Local Plan development blueprint is adopted in 2028.

Members of the 14-councillor political group have tabled a notice of motion for the next full meeting of the authority later this month to highlight “the loss of key facilities from our communities” across North Yorkshire.

The motion follows the council repeatedly launching consultations over the closure of village primary schools, saying Department of Education rules leave it with little option but to recommend they close their doors despite communities developing action plans to rescue them. 

Last autumn, the authority’s children’s scrutiny committee heard the succession of rural school closures was “only likely to get worse” with a looming oversupply of places, despite attempts to prevent an increasing number of schools going into the red.

Andrew Smith, the Diocese of York’s director of education, issued the bleak situation facing many communities in North Yorkshire as councillors were told some 16 primary schools had closed in the past six years.

Some of the closed schools include Drax, Horton in Ribblesdale, Rathmell, Ingleby Arncliffe, Swainb, Ings, Burnt Yates, Arkengarthdale, Clapham, Whitby, Kell Bank, Weaverthorpe, Baldersby St James, Harrogate, Hovingham and Skelton.

Councillors heard financial pressures on the county’s smaller schools were rising, with the average school deficit soaring from £16,400 in 2015 to £57,900 last year.

Meanwhile, the number of primary school-age pupils was set to fall in every area of the county except the Selby area and Craven.

The proposal underlines how the closure of rural schools in North Yorkshire has many significant negative social impacts on residents, communities and children – an observation which has regularly been raised by some prominent Tory members of the authority.

The motion states: “The loss of schools and other associated infrastructure leaves villages without the necessary services to support families now and into the future.”

Liberal Democrat councillor for Amotherby and Ampleforth division Steve Mason said. ‘The recent news about the potential closure of St Hildas in Ampleforth, following the closure of Hovingham school last year highlights the need for NYC to step in to protect these valued services for the future.’

“In the past five years alone we have lost 11 primary schools in North Yorkshire and no doubt more will follow. Clearly, something is broken.”

Councillor Andrew Murday, who represents Pateley Bridge and Nidderdale, said the council had a responsibility to support the county’s many rural communities.

He said: “Primary schools are a vital component of those communities and without them the community gradually collapses. We need the council to rethink its policy otherwise there will be progressive depopulation. Only last month we saw the loss of Fountains Earth School at Lofthouse. It should not be allowed to continue.”

The council’s Conservative leadership have been approached to comment.