Falling pupil numbers force C of E primary school to close

17 March 2017

J THOMAS/GEOGRAPH/COMMONS

Rural: Leasgill, near Milnthorpe. Hevesham St Peter's school used to be adjacent to St Pater's church, but was moved to Leasgill because the school's toilets were immediately above the village water supply

Rural: Leasgill, near Milnthorpe. Hevesham St Peter's school used to be adjacent to St Pater's church, but was moved to Leasgill because the school's ...

A CHURCH school, lauded for its academic success, is to close because of falling pupil numbers.

Heversham St Peter’s C of E Primary School, near Milnthorpe, in Cumbria, was one of the top ten performers nationally in last year’s SATs tests, and joint top in its county (News, 23/30 December).

In 2012, it was named by OFSTED as one of 20 primary schools nationally that showed “excellent work” in teaching maths, and featured in a film to demonstrate good practice.

Six years ago, there were 88 children on its roll; today, there are 15, with none in either Reception or Year 1. St Peter’s lies in a rural area on the edge of the southern Lake District. It has an affluent but ageing popula­tion, and its demography suggests that there will be no significant increase in young families in the future.

Consequently, it has been declared financially unviable, and is expected to close formally on 31 August, subject to final ratification by the Secretary of State for Education. Existing pupils will transfer to neighbouring schools for the autumn term. The Trust has said that it is committed to seeking “alternative educa­tional uses” for the site.

Jane Clarke, who chairs the school’s governors, said: “It is very sad to think of the school closing, but it is hard to see any alternative. There has been a church school in Heversham since 1838, and it has been a valued part of the local community.

“However, in recent years, the nature of the village has changed: there are very few young families, and this seems set to continue. There is a choice of good village schools in the wider area, all of which have vacancies.”

Three years ago, in a bid to improve the chances of St Peter’s, it joined four other South Lakeland village primaries in the Good Shepherd Multi Academy Trust. But, when the head teacher retired last year, the head of a neighbouring school was appointed as part-time executive head. There are two other part-time teachers, and two part-time support staff.

A consultation by the Trust with parents, staff, and local stakeholders confirmed the school’s popularity, but also the absence of any viable options for keeping it going. Chairman of the Trust, Nigel Appleton, said: “It is with great sadness that the board has had to make the very difficult decision to recommend the closure of Heversham St Peter’s CE School.

“The current situation based around pupil numbers is not financially sustainable, and there is no suggestion that there will be any increase in pupil numbers, or funding, in order to alleviate the financial difficulties.”

As the education data expert, Professor John Howson, warned last month (Education, 10 February): “Since schools are funded per capita just one family moving out of a village can be enough to tip the balance.”

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