North Yorkshire County Council has overseen the closure of numerous primary schools serving rural communities in recent years – and has approved moves to shut another.
But it says the inflexibility of government rules had left it “between a rock and a hard place”.
The council’s executive has agreed to launch statutory measures that are likely to see the 51-pupil capacity Weaverthorpe Primary School in the Yorkshire Wolds close before the next academic year.
A meeting of the executive was told the council had explored every way to keep the school open and had found no viable alternative, but a final decision on the school would not be made until May.
The move comes just weeks after Baldersby St James Primary School, near Thirsk, was given confirmation from the Secretary of State that the school would close at the end of the summer term.
Last year the North Yorkshire Rural Commission identified that while the county has the highest number of small schools in England, many of which perform well, some were facing closure due to falling pupil rolls, financial difficulties and schools standards.
While Weaverthorpe villagers have claimed the council’s support for the school was insufficient and caused the inadequate rating, the commission concluded if small rural schools were to be saved the Department for Education needed to revise its national funding formula to ensure increased support.
Several members of the executive, including the council’s leader, Councillor Carl Les, expressed dismay over the potential closure at Weaverthorpe, saying the authority had no choice but to follow government rules which were “not particularly helpful at times”.
‘Very frustrating situation’
Children’s services executive member Councillor Janet Sanderson told the meeting while it was “not the first time we have found ourselves in this position” following a small rural school failing an Ofsted inspection, it represented “a very frustrating situation for us all”, particularly as it impacted on the heart of communities.
She said the chain of events that had been triggered following the school receiving an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating, including an automatic need for the school to be run by an academy, had been largely beyond the council’s control.
Coun Sanderson said despite extensive efforts on the part of the council, academies had not considered the small school viable.
She said she had been “deeply frustrated” by the limitations and had lobbied ministers over the Ofsted inspection’s “chain reaction”, but the remaining children at the school would be offered free bus transport to the next nearest school.
Coun Sanderson said: “Almost adding insult to injury, if the school does then subsequently close the local authority is left to pick up the subsequent transport costs.
“At the moment we are between a rock and a hard place unless an academy sponsorship can be found.”