Decision delayed on future structure of three Dales primary schools

Askrigg Primary School.

The governing board of three Dales primary schools says it will take more time to consider options on the future structure of the schools.

The governors of Bainbridge, Askrigg and West Burton primary schools have been deciding how the schools will operate from September.

It had been feared at least one of the schools could have to close because of falling pupil numbers and financial difficulties faced by the organisation which runs the schools, the BAWB Federation.

However, a new funding formula announced recently by the Government means education chiefs believe it will be possible to keep all three schools open for now, with three small, rural schools set to benefit significantly from the new arrangement.

Governors of the schools, who are federated as a single body, have been working with support from North Yorkshire County Council and the Diocese of Leeds to work out a plan for the future.

Following a period of community engagement they met last night to decide on the best model going forward.

However, the governors said that feedback received raised a range of complex issues and made it clear that none of the options presented had sufficient community support, either because parents were unhappy they required too much transport between school sites, or would result in unsatisfactory class sizes and structures.

As a result the governors have decided to postpone a decision until after the Easter holidays.

Following last night’s meeting, governors have written to parents of children at the three schools today advising that further work is underway to explore an additional option which they hope would address the main concerns.

The governors had favoured an option which combine and transport all the federation’s children within the following structure of four classes (option 7):

  • BAWB EYFS at Bainbridge
  • BAWB KS1 at West Burton
  • BAWB Y3/4 and Y5/6 at Askrigg (in 2 classes)

However, while some people supported this proposal, there was also support for a structure similar to the existing arrangements (option 3) by reducing the number of classes at Askrigg to one, meaning that there would be a Y3-6 class at both Askrigg and West Burton:

  • 2 classes at Bainbridge (the EYFS and KS1 children of Bainbridge and Askrigg)
  • 1 class at Askrigg (the Y3/4/5/6 children of Bainbridge and Askrigg)
  • 2 classes at West Burton (EYFS/KS1 and Y3/4/5/6 children of West Burton only)

The governors say they will now not proceed with any of these options will look at a new way possible structure.

In the letter to parents they say: “There may be a way of adjusting the internal reorganisation of the schools in a way that addresses your key concerns; in particular that Option 7 involved too many children in too much transport between school sites, and that Option 3 resulted in very unsatisfactory class size and structure at Askrigg.”

You can read the letter to parents in full here.

The governors say they intend to communicate and seek views on this new option after Easter and have scheduled to make a final decision on Wednesday, May 9  for implementation in September.

“We feel it is crucial to take into account this very full and detailed community engagement on the schools’ future”, said Derek Walpole, the federation chair of governors.

“We face very real and complex challenges in providing a sustainable and high quality education in Wensleydale and it is therefore vital that we respond carefully to what we have heard and avoid a hasty decision.

“We hope that with the help of North Yorkshire County Council we will find a way of adjusting the internal reorganisation of the schools in a way that addresses these key concerns. We will work as hard and as fast as we can within these constraints.

“We hope this will produce a way forward that commands sufficient support and is also financially viable.”

A range of options were set out in the community engagement.

These options involved significant operational change reducing the number of class groups across the three sites to address school deficits.

“We recognise this is a very tough decision for the governors to make and must be considered very carefully,” said County Councillor Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s executive member for schools.

“The county council is committed to keeping village schools thriving whenever possible as we fully recognise the importance of children accessing quality education in their local schools.

“We will therefore continue to support governors while they face the difficult task of weighing all the key issues from the community to come to a decision that can be supported and which is also financially sustainable.”

County Councillor John Blackie, local member for the Upper Dales, said: “I welcome the delay in taking the final decision as it is vitally important that whatever arrangements are taken forward maintain and hopefully increase the numbers on roll at each school, as this will provide a much greater degree of certainty for their future.

“The community engagement programme, a first of its kind for North Yorkshire, has been invaluable in providing the Governors with a very accurate perspective on what is really important to those the schools in their charge serve, as witnessed by over 100 written responses submitted to the consultation.

“I am pleased to see there will be another round of community engagement ahead of the decision being made in early May.”