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Council could be asked to reconsider Fountains Earth school closure

Tuesday, 16 April 2024 12:13

By Thomas Barrett, Local Democracy Reporter

Fountains Earth Primary School.

Senior Conservative councillors could be asked to reconsider the decision to close Fountains Earth primary school in Nidderdale.

North Yorkshire Council’s executive met last month in Northallerton to approve the closure following a consultation.

The school in Lofthouse near Pateley Bridge faced dwindling pupil numbers in recent years and had no pupils on its books.

The council’s executive member for education Cllr Annabel Wilkinson said “nobody wants to close a small school” and it was “a very hard decision.”

The decision to close the school was controversial in Nidderdale, with some former parents and local Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Murday pleading with the authority to delay its decision.

At the time, they unsuccessfully argued that an investigation should take place into the leadership of Upper Nidderdale Federation which controls the school.

At a meeting tomorrow in Northallerton, councillors on the children and families overview and scrutiny committee will meet to discuss ‘calling in’ the decision to close the school.

This would involve the committee referring the original decision back to either the executive or to a full meeting of North Yorkshire Council where all councillors would take a vote on the closure.

A report prepared for the meeting tomorrow gives three reasons for calling in the original decision. These are related to pupil numbers, educational standards and the financial situation at the school.

The report said:

“If the issues that led the parents to withdraw their children from the school were to be resolved, then pupils would return. There is a strong belief amongst the parents and the local community that conditions in the school deteriorated in order to depopulate it.

“The school received a ‘good’ rating on inspection in June 2022. It was strange, therefore, that the governing body of the Upper Nidderdale Federation requested a month later that NYCC should consider closing the school.

"Although that request was withdrawn, it spread the seeds of doubt, so that parents considered thereafter that the school was under threat.

"This rating is difficult to reconcile with the view that the education standard provided at the school was inadequate, another reason given for the closure.

“At the time of closure, the school had no permanent teaching staff. The cost of maintenance of the buildings over a relatively short period of time until it reopens would be minimal.

"Compared to this, the costs of home-to school transport from Lofthouse to other schools in Nidderdale will be substantial and will outweigh the maintenance cost.

"The burden for the children, some as young as 4 years old, of travelling many miles each day to attend a distant school will be considerable.”

The meeting will take place at 2pm on Wednesday at County Hall.

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