Church leaders from the Diocese of Leeds have been urged to develop a clear vision to restore a balance to Yorkshire Dales communities to attract young families and counter closures of village schools.
Campaigners, who have launched an appeal against a decision to close a 300-year-old school, near Settle, have written to the chair of the Diocese of Leeds Board of Education calling for a new approach to small rural schools. It comes after North Yorkshire County Council decided to push ahead with plans to shut the tiny Church of England school in Horton-in-Ribblesdale last month.
Kerry Pilkington, from the Friends of Horton School, wrote: “Ask yourself in 10 to 20 years’ time while you take time to walk around the ‘Dales village’, with its rotting school and ageing population – is this the right decision we made back then?” The letter was penned after the Rt Rev Dr Jonathan Gibbs set out his reasons why the diocese supported the closure, including evidence that “it was not in the best interests of the children’s education to keep it open” due to the size of the school, which has just 12 pupils on the roll. He also called for a wider discussion about the future of rural communities.
However, Mrs Pilkington argued that Horton School was the first of several Dales schools under threat of closure, writing: “surely taking the school out of these communities is a destructive thing to do?”.
In response, Rev Gibbs said: “We believe the best strategy is to encourage schools to look for new ways of working together to share resources and reduce overhead costs. In the end however, parents make choices about where they send their children to school, and where too many choose other larger schools then this seriously undermines the viability of smaller schools.”