Dwindling attendance spells end of rural school

28 July 2017

ALEXANDER P. KAPP/GEOGRAPH/COMMONS

Off the beaten track: approaching the village of Leasgill. St Peter's school is nearby (out of picture)

Off the beaten track: approaching the village of Leasgill. St Peter's school is nearby (out of picture)

CLOSURES of remote rural schools were “inextricably linked” with the survival of rural communities, both of which needed long-term solutions, the chief education officer of the Church of England, the Revd Nigel Genders, has warned.

His comments came after the last term for the pupils of Heversham St Peter’s C of E Primary School, in the remote village of Leasgill, Cumbria, in the diocese of Carlisle. It was run by the diocesan-led Good Shepherd Multi Academy Trust, and will officially close on 31 August (News, 17 March).

Although the school had the capacity for 105 pupils, only 15 were enrolled. There were no children in Reception and Year 1, and “no foreseeable significant increase” in attendance, a statement from the diocese explained. “Based around those numbers, the school is not financially sustainable.”

The closure was recommended by the board of the Trust, in March, after a consultation with parents, local stakeholders, staff, and governors. The school had only two teachers, a teaching assistant, an administrator, and an after-school-club leader, all of whom were part-time. Its last head teacher retired at the end of last year, and was temporarily replaced by an executive head teacher, also part-time.

Mr Genders declined to comment on specific school closures, but said that the Church needed to ensure that the education offered in small rural schools remained of a high standard. “In schools where there is a small pupil base, this is not always possible, and, in those cases, we need to think creatively about other ways of providing quality education. This can be a range of alternatives, including federation, multi-academies, or, in some cases, closure.”

A statement from the chief executive of the Trust, Michael Mill, confirmed this conclusion: “It is with a sense of real sadness and regret that we have been forced to make this difficult decision [to close the school]. Despite detailed consultation with stakeholders, during which all funding routes were explored, it became clear there were no viable funding options.”

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About one million pupils are educated in more than 4700 C of E schools. The closure brings the number of church schools in the diocese of Carlisle to 104, of which 60 have fewer than 100 pupils.

Jane Clark, who chairs the Local Governing Board, said that parents had been informed at the earliest opportunity. “Understandably, that decision created some initial uncertainty, but the Local Governing Body worked hard to encourage parents, pupils, and staff to understand and accept what was happening, and why the decision had been made.”

The board had worked with Cumbria County Council to identify local schools with vacancies, she said. All pupils would be accommodated in new schools in September.

A special open day was held last week, attended by more than 200 people, to celebrate the history of the school. It included a presentation by current and former pupils, and a service at St Peter’s, Heversham.

The celebration had been “heartening”, Ms Clarke said. “The final two terms were a time during which the overarching emotions were ones of optimism and positivity.”

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