Restructure of classes at Dales schools will ensure their future, say governors

West Burton Primary School.

The restructure of classes at three Dales schools will ensure their future viability, say school leaders.

However, the changes, which will mean the bussing of some children between Bainbridge, Askrigg and West Burton schools, have not been welcomed by all parents.

The governors of the BAWB Federation of schools say the changes to the class structures will take effect from September.

The restructure means all reception and year one pupils will be taught at Bainbridge Primary School, while all year two children will attend at West Burton.

Years three to six children will continue to be taught at West Burton and Askrigg schools.

The restructure means children travelling daily by bus between villages — a system which some parents of West Burton children were strongly opposed to when it was previously proposed in 2018, before the idea was abandoned.

However, school leaders now say the changes will be better for the pupils’ education and ensure the future of all three schools.

In a letter to parents, they said: “For many years due to low pupil numbers and financial constraints we have always had mixed aged classes across the federation.

“However, next year we are extremely fortunate to be able to teach all the youngest children together at Bainbridge and all of the Year 2 children (6-7 year olds) in a separate class at West Burton.

“This is a real luxury and follows the best educational practices which are common in larger primary schools.

“This will mean continuity of education for the younger children, whilst the large group of Year 2 pupils will help to make West Burton School a vibrant learning community once more.”

The letter added: “The really great news for everyone is that these new arrangements will mean that will be financially stable (out of debt) in 3 years and we intend to work very hard to ensure that we are.

“The new structure has also been agreed with North Yorkshire County Council and it means that all three schools have a certain future going forward.

“This will remove the uncertainty many have felt in the past and should allow us to recruit even more children to these wonderful small schools.”

West Burton parent Graham Bottley is a member of the schools’ joint working group, which was set up to improve communications between the school communities.

He said the operational changes for September did include bussing pupils, but the increased numbers at the West Burton site would make for a “vibrant school atmosphere during the day”.

He added: “Parents and the local community both understand the reasons behind these changes and that they will be implemented for a single school year.

“We can then target further improvements to the already significant increases in West Burton pupil numbers we have seen over the past year as a result of the efforts of the joint working group.

“West Burton School, and the federation of which it is an integral part, are central to the Dales communities they serve and any measures that ensure the long term provision of schooling for all ages at West Burton can only be a good thing.”

But Walden parent John Lanaghan is unhappy about the changes, which he says will mean their son, who gets travel sick, having to travel much further every day to get to school, and will mean him attending a different school to his younger sister, who attends nursery at West Burton.

Mr Lanaghan said he felt the decision had been taken “behind parents’ backs”.

“We are very upset that this was done behind closed doors without any consultation with parents,” he said.

The parent added that he felt the change to a new school would mean more upheaval for his son after months of being in lockdown.

He also questioned whether it made sense to send children to school in different villages when the nation was still dealing with Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing was required.

Heather Limbach, chair of the BAWB governors, told Richmondshire Today they were aware the changes could be difficult and that some people may be unhappy with the decisions taken.

She added: “We will always seek to minimise distress and where we can mitigate it, and communicate our decisions and reasons as well as we can.

“We are also always open to discussions with parents and community members.”

Dales county councillor Yvonne Peacock said she was talking to all parties involved and trying to find solutions acceptable to everyone.