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Councillors reject last-ditch bid to save Fountains Earth school

Friday, 19 April 2024 12:20

By Thomas Barrett, Local Democracy Reporter

Fountains Earth Primary School.

Councillors have rejected a bid to ‘call in’ the decision by the Conservative-run executive to close Fountains Earth primary school in Nidderdale.

Councillors have rejected a bid to ‘call in’ the decision by the Conservative-run executive 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. It took effect at the end of March.

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

The school received a ‘good’ rating from Ofsted less than two years ago.

At a specially arranged meeting yesterday at County Hall, Cllr Andrew Murday (Liberal Democrat, Pateley Bridge and Nidderdale) asked that the decision to close the school be taken again, either by the executive or at a full meeting of the council.

Following Cllr Murday’s request, the children and families overview and scrutiny committee had the power to explore if the executive had all the information available to it when it made its decision.

Councillors heard from Stephen Ledger, a former parent at the school who said Fountains Earth had been the “heart of the community” until 2022.

He then described how “brilliant” permanent teachers left without explanation, which led to the school relying on agency staff. He said it left children “confused and unsettled” and confidence in the school from parents evaporated.

Cllr Stephen Ramsden, chair of Upper Nidderdale Parish Council, pleaded with councillors to help keep the school open for a September 2024 start.

He said:

“With good skilled management this situation can be turned around”.

Cllr Murday again called for an investigation to take place first into the leadership of the Upper Nidderdale Federation which ran the school related to its academic and financial performance as well as communication with parents.

He added:

“There is a problem throughout the country in funding rural schools. They are really important parts of the community.”

Stuart Carlton, North Yorkshire Council’s Corporate Director Children and Young People’s Service, read out a statement that addressed concerns raised.

He said the council did not have the power to investigate the governance of the federation.

Mr Carlton added:

“Due to the remote location of the school it struggled to retain staff. The federation considered the future of the school only after exhausting all avenues to sustain its future. 

"We realise the importance of schools in rural communities, despite this, we can’t keep schools open where there are no pupils on the roll.”

Councillors voted unanimously to reject the call-in request and agreed that the executive had received a thorough report and details from officers before making its decision.

Cllr Heather Phillips (Conservative, Seamer) said:

“This is the end of the matter and the school should be considered closed from the end of this meeting. It was a clear-cut decision made by the executive.”

Heather Peacock (Conservative, Upper Dales) added:

“None of us like to see a school closed but what happened at executive is they had all the information to make its decision.”

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