Proposal to close St Hilda’s Roman Catholic Primary School, Whitby

We are proposing to close St Hilda’s Roman Catholic Primary School with effect from 31 August 2020.

Background

St Hilda’s Roman Catholic School is a small school located in Whitby that has no distinct catchment area but has historically served a wide area consisting primarily of Whitby and the surrounding rural area. 

Pupil numbers at the school have been low compared to the other schools in Whitby Town for many years and governors and leaders of the school as well as the Diocese and we have been aware of the school’s vulnerability. As a small school operating in an area with a significant surplus of school places the school is particularly susceptible to the effects of falling numbers due to parental preference. 

The Governors have attempted to tackle this issue through measures, including those listed above, designed to increase pupil numbers and therefore income whilst cutting expenditure where possible.  

In parallel with the Governing Body’s attempts to set a balanced budget the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough has been undergoing a process of converting all of their maintained schools into Academies under the leadership of a number of multiacademy trusts. In December 2018 an academy order was signed for St Hilda’s Roman Catholic Primary School. 

However, as with all academy conversions a process of due diligence was required before any conversion would be approved. In the case of St Hilda’s the current financial situation and projected financial outlook precluded the school from being accepted into the trust at that time.  

Governors were aware that we cannot license deficits without clear measures to rectify the situation and following confirmation from Diocese of Middlesbrough that they see no evidence to require the continuation of Catholic education provision in Whitby, they reached the conclusion that there is no available solution that will sustain the school in the long term.   

There are three main factors leading to the closure proposal. Firstly, the number of children at St Hilda’s has fallen from 51 in 2015/16 to 24 in 2019/20. As of 19 February only three first preference applications had been made for Reception places in September 2020 and with capacity available in every other primary school within Whitby Town it is unlikely that the school would be allocated any lower preference applications. 

Secondly, the predicted financial position is a concern. The school had an accumulated budget deficit at the end of the 2018/19 financial year and the cumulative deficit is forecast to significantly worsen over future financial years. 

For the Roman Catholic Church their mission and purpose is to provide education with a Catholic character to Catholic children. Out of a total role of 24 at present only four of these pupils are Catholic. The Diocese has confirmed that there is no evidence to support the continuation of Catholic education in Whitby, as there appear to be no other Catholic children seeking to attend the school. 

The current position 

At a meeting on 7 January the Governing Body of St Hilda’s Roman Catholic Primary School agreed to ask us to consult on the school’s closure. This is because pupil numbers have fallen to an unsustainable level and they are not able to set a balanced budget which is a legal requirement. The Diocese of Middlesbrough has confirmed that there is no evidence to require the continuation of Catholic provision in Whitby and we have confirmed that the school is not required to meet their duty to maintain sufficient school places.  

We and the Diocese of Middlesbrough support this consultation. We are therefore consulting on the proposal to close the school with effect from 31 August 2020. 
 
The Governing Body of St Hilda’s Roman Catholic Primary School have not reached this decision lightly and have already worked hard to try and increase pupil numbers at the school notably by working alongside the Diocese to bring an Early Years education provider onto the school site and foster relations with these families. The governors have also attempted, where possible to make cost savings and have explored the possibility of sharing a headship in order to reduce expenditure. 

Pupil numbers

The number of children at St Hilda’s Roman Catholic Primary School has been falling over the past few years. There are 24 pupils on roll during this Spring Term 2020 and these are projected to fall to 18 in September 2020. 

Year Group Pupil Number February 2020 Forecast Pupil Number September 2020
Reception 6 3
1 2 6
2 1 2
3 3 1
4 3 3
5 0 3
6 9 0
Total 24 18

This is well below the capacity of the school – which is designed to accommodate 105 pupils if all spaces are in use. Forecasts indicate that these numbers will not recover significantly in the longer term and may reduce still further. 

The forecasts referenced above were based upon an expectation of four new Reception pupils in September 2020. In fact, the school has currently only received three first preference applications for Reception places in September 2020. 

There is a significant surplus of school places across Whitby Town. Where possible we seek to maintain a five per cent to 10 per cent surplus of places in a planning area to allow for flexibility within the system and parental preference to be exercised. In Whitby, there is currently a surplus of more than 30 per cent. Even if all housing identified within the local plan was constructed at expected rates the surplus is projected to stand at 28 per cent in 2024/25.  

If St Hilda’s were to close the surplus across the town would drop to 23 per cent at present, and if all local plan housing was constructed at expected rates that surplus is projected to stand at 21 per cent in 2024/25.

The financial position

Pupil numbers determine the school budget. With reducing pupil numbers, and a reduced budget, the finances are not sustainable.

The school is projecting deficits in year of £25,000 in 2019/20, £46,500 in 2020/21 and £51,000 in 2021/22, with a cumulative deficit of £127,000 at the end of the 2021/22 financial year. These projections are based on pupil number assumptions of 24 in Autumn 2019 and 22 in Autumn 2020, so the position will deteriorate further as pupil numbers have fallen and there appears to be no reasonable prospect of recovery. 

Schools standards/Ofsted 

The School’s last Ofsted judgement was published in December 2017 and confirmed that the school continued to be ‘Good’. This proposal is not based upon the quality of the education provision at St Hilda’s. However, it should be noted that where numbers of pupils at a school fall very low and budgets become restricted it provides an additional challenge to school standards. 

The proposal

For the reasons above it is proposed that St Hilda’s Roman Catholic Primary School should close with effect from 31 August 2020. 

  • The nearest local school, 0.1 miles from St Hilda’s Roman Catholic School, is Airy Hill Primary School, Whitby. 
  • The nearest Roman Catholic School at 7.3 miles away is St Hedda’s Roman Catholic Primary School, Egton Bridge.  

For children currently at St Hilda’s Roman Catholic Primary School, we will work with each family to try to meet their individual preferences for other schools.

Governors at St Hilda’s Roman Catholic Primary School are also committed to supporting families in their choice of school and in making a smooth transition. The Diocese of Middlesbrough will seek to ensure that spaces are available at the nearest Catholic Primary School (St Hedda’s  Primary School, Egton Bridge) and to provide transport for those pupils currently at St Hilda’s who wish to continue to receive a Catholic education.  

Eligibility for home-to-school transport will be determined in line with our current home to school transport policy and procedures, based on travel distances from each child’s home address and individual circumstances.   

Parents have a right to express a preference for any school and, in the case of community and voluntary controlled schools, we are the admissions authority and will meet that preference, provided there are vacant places or the school is happy to admit above the published admission number.  

In the case of Voluntary Aided schools or Academy schools, the governing body decides the conditions for admission to their particular school, while still bound by the Admissions Code. Where a child attends a school, which is not their normal school or nearest school, parents are normally responsible for making transport arrangements. 

Advice 

Our Admissions Team is always happy to give advice to parents. Please contact Admissions Appeals Officer Vickie Hemming-Allen on 01609 535481 or  Business Support Manager Lisa Herdman on 01609 534953.

A separate consultation process, including a staff meeting, will run in parallel with the closure process.

The School Site 

The school building and part of the site is owned by the Diocese of Middlesbrough with the remainder owned by ourselves. Decisions about the future use of the school building and playing field will be taken by the owners after the closure proposal has been determined.

Give us your views

Your views about this proposal are welcomed.

You can either complete and return the attached response sheet, or submit an online response.

Take part in our survey

Paper responses should be returned to ourselves at: FREEPOST RTKE-RKAY-CUJS St Hilda’s Strategic Planning North Yorkshire County Council County Hall Northallerton DL7 8AE.

Important dates

The closing date for responses is Friday 1 May 2020.

All responses to the consultation received by this date will be considered by our Executive on 19 May 2020.

If the Executive decides to proceed with the closure proposal, then statutory notices would be published in the local press on Friday, 1 June 2020. These notices provide a further four weeks for representations to be made. A final decision would then be made by the Executive on 7 July 2020.  If agreed the school would close on 31 August 2020. 

Consultation document

A copy of the  consultation document (pdf / 743 KB) is available to download.

Other useful information

  St Hilda's RC Primary Airy Hill Primary East Whitby Primary Ruswarp CE VC Primary Stakesby Primary Academy West Cliff Primary Total
    Academy Academy   Academy Academy  
Distance from St Hilda's RC School by road NA 0.1 miles 1.1 miles 1.6 miles 0.9 miles 0.9 miles  
Last Ofsted inspection Good - June 2013 Not applicable Not applicable Good - March 2018 Not applicable Not applicable  
Net capacity (places available at school) 105 210 315 105 233 210 1178
Current pupil roll 24 179 188 94 144 188 817
Current capacity +/- 81 31 127 11 89 22 361
Pupil roll 2020/21 18 176 183 90 137 197 801
Pupil roll 2021/22 22 173 181 85 138 198 797
Pupil roll 2022/23 21 175 178 87 137 196 794
Pupil roll 2023/24 22 173 172 86 135 198 786
Pupil roll 2024/25 24 170 168 83 133 198 776
Pupils from outstanding permissions 2024/25 0 16 17 14 18 3  
Potential pupils from future housing - Local Plan (Over 15 years) 0 0 85 0 15 8  

* Based on 1 primary-aged pupil from every four houses.