Clapham meeting will give full debate on school’s future

North Yorkshire’s leading councillors are holding a special meeting next week (April 30th) to discuss the future of one of the county’s small village schools.

Primary school child in North Yorkshire

It follows an agreement to delay a decision on Clapham Church of England Primary School following significant community feedback and new proposals which may offer it a sustainable future.

As part of North Yorkshire County Council’s commitment to support small rural schools wherever possible a special executive meeting is now being held. Councillors will consider all the evidence from the many responses to the consultation. They will then decide whether to authorise publication of statutory notices for closure, or whether stop the closure proposal to allow the school’s governing body to work out a sustainable future for the school with the newly formed Clapham School Action Group.

Numbers of children attending Clapham primary have fallen in recent years from 42 in 2014/15 to the current 28, and further reductions had been predicted.

The fall in numbers, combined with financial pressures and an inability to secure a substantive headteacher, had brought into question the sustainability of the school and had led to a consultation on closure. In the event, the consultation galvanised the wider community and prompted over 200 responses.

“We recognise the importance of our small rural schools and the huge financial pressures they face and we are committed to supporting them whenever we can – this is evidenced by the fact that we have more of them than any other county in England,” said Stuart Carlton, North Yorkshire’s Corporate Director for the Children and Young People’s Service.

“We are very aware of the crucial role village schools play in the life of their communities and we fully recognise that where possible children should be educated locally in a school that provides high quality education - nobody wants to see a village school close.

“There’s no financial benefit for us from school closures – in fact they often increase our financial burden through their impact on home-to-school transport costs. Our responsibility is to consider the future of every school on a case by case basis whenever we are approached by governing bodies seeking to consult on closure.

“We do everything possible and work with all partner agencies to secure the sustainability of rural communities and we work with planning authorities to emphasise the importance and need for affordable and suitable housing to attract families into rural areas.

“We recognise the Government’s funding formula presents a huge challenge for our village schools which can also face falling rolls resulting in them struggling to offer the breadth and depth of curriculum and social development required.

“To maintain local provision we have done a great deal in recent years to broker and support school partnerships and federations to maintain the sustainability of small schools. No other local school had come forward to federate with Clapham, despite the efforts of our officers and the Diocese.

“However, the consultation process has delivered new ideas and evidence of increased housing development and initiatives to bring more families into the area and we will now consider all of this very carefully.”

The newly formed Clapham School Action Group is run by volunteers who will seek to work alongside the governing body to look at new ways in which the community can support the school. In its detailed consultation response the group put forward evidence that existing housing developments will provide more houses than originally estimated.

The Action Group also secured a commitment from the Ingleborough Estate, which is landlord to a large number of houses in Clapham, to provide additional low cost rented housing to families with young children.

The Action Group has also established the Clapham Education Trust with the aim of making donations so that the school’s cumulative deficit does not increase and would gradually recover if the school were to remain open.

“We acknowledge that a huge amount of work has been done by the community in a short space of time to explore the many ways in which Clapham primary can be supported to carry on providing education to local children” said Mr Carlton.

“Members are therefore holding a special meeting so these proposals and all the issues of this village school’s sustainability can be thoroughly discussed and a properly informed decision arrived at.”

This story was published 18 April 2019