That the Executive:
i. Agree that statutory proposals and notices be published on 30 March 2023 proposing to cease to maintain Skelton Newby Hall CE Primary School with effect from 31 August 2023; and proposing that the catchment area of Kirby Hill CE VC be expanded with effect from 1 September 2023 to serve the area currently served by Skelton Newby Hall CE VC School.
ii. Schedule taking a final decision on these proposals on 30 May 2023.
Considered – A report of the Corporate Director – Children and Young People’s Service, detailing the outcome of the public consultation on a proposal to close Skelton Newby Hall CE VC Primary School, and asking the Executive is asked to consider the responses to the consultation, to authorise the publication of statutory proposals, and to schedule taking a final decision on the proposal on 30 May 2023.
County Councillor Annabel Wilkinson introduced the report and provided an overview of the background to the proposal to close the school. She also drew attention to the public consultation that had taken place and the responses received, as detailed in Appendix 5 of the report, and the proposal to extend the catchment area of Kirby Hill CE VC Primary to serve the area currently served by Skelton Newby Hall Primary.
The Chairman invited Mr Guy Critchlow, Chairman of Skelton cum Newby Parish Council, to read out his public submission as follows:
‘Chair, Councillors, and Officers of the Council, thank you for the opportunity to share a statement from the community of Skelton on Ure.
Three minutes to put the case for Skelton Newby Hall Primary School. We are not wearing rose tinted spectacles when making the case for our school to remain open. Our school is viable and valuable to the village and surrounding areas.
As you will be aware and as a start point, the government, “expects all decision makers to adopt a presumption against the closure of rural schools. This does not mean that a rural school will never close, but that the case for closure should be strong and clearly in the best interests of educational provision in the area.”
The report has put the case that that the basis of closure is two reasons, the falling roll and maintaining the quality & breadth of education for all year groups. Indeed there is now only one pupil on the roll. This is not the natural state of affairs for this school. This is not organically driven. Our school is in this position as a result of a failed federation with Sharow School.
In 2021, Ofsted has recorded that Sharow School has issues of staff absenteeism, unaddressed bullying concerns, and governance with a special Chair appointed last September. It’s short inspection noted it would have been downgraded had it been a full inspection, which we understand has just taken place.
Our school has not been marketed appropriately to attract new pupils, which was incorrectly recorded in the minutes of the public meeting. The report notes no new housing developments in our current catchment. This lies at the heart of the matter. Our catchment does not currently include the 800 houses in development within five miles of our school which do not even know we exist.
Parents of potential pupils were left underwhelmed when they enquired about spaces; during the course of the last decade, and especially the last few years, the reputation of the federation has led parents in the village to reluctantly select other schools and even move their children due to concerns.
We can correct this course and address the first concern around pupil roll.
We have a Sustainable Future Plan for the school. There is shortage of nursery and early years places in the area. We welcome the fact the government has just opened up early years funding from age one which will further increase the demand.
Our School is the perfect 1.5 acre setting, a ready-made forest school, a large amenity space with fully fitted playground, and even a safe drop off car park which is perfect for early years. With the right leadership, the right marketing, this school can thrive again. Whilst we approached the Leeds Diocesan Learning Trust about working with Roecliffe, the mis-match of funding model has not enabled us to progress at this point, even though there is a need. By focusing on the provision of nursery and early years, we can address the second concern around quality of education.
We could pass comment on the format of the consultation, the bias in report layout towards closure, the community feeling that this was a consultation in name-only; in our opinion it certainly does not meet the spirit of the government guidance on consultations.
However, we want to focus on the opportunity which is our Sustainable Future Plan for our school. We are a canary in the mine for the very essence of rural communities in North Yorkshire and for the new North Yorkshire Council. We deserve the opportunity to re-build our school and demonstrate it’s viability. We cannot do this alone, we want to work with, not against, the Council in this aim.’
In response, Annabel Wilkinson Executive Member for Education, Learning & Skills noted that the Governors believed they had been active in their collective efforts to raise numbers at the school, as detailed in the report. Their initiatives had included the introduction of nursery provision in September 2019, which attracted some children to the school, although numbers were limited. Marketing of the school had included the distribution of flyers to new houses in the area, and investment in the school’s website.
· There had been no responses to the consultation from other local schools offering federation or alternative arrangements to allow Skelton Newby Hall School to remain open.
· Changing the size of the Skelton Newby Hall catchment would not make any material difference to the number of pupils attending Skelton Newby Hall School.
· Parents from inside or outside the Skelton Newby Hall catchment could apply at any time for places at the school for their children.
She also acknowledged the value of the Skelton Newby Hall CE VC site and its outdoor learning area. The benefits of the site alone had not been sufficient though, to attract parents to bring their children to the school. The school building and site was not owned by the County Council, and the owners would decide about the future use of the school site and building after the closure proposal had been determined.
Finally she confirmed that officers were confident that a full and detailed consultation had been carried out to date, and that no final decision had been made at this stage regarding the school’s future. She suggested that if the Executive decided to proceed with the process by approving the publication of statutory proposals, this would give another four weeks for representations to be made by the public.
As the Councillor for the village of Skelton on Ure, County Councillor Nick Brown was also given the opportunity to speak on the proposed closure of Skelton Newby Hall CE Voluntary Controlled Primary School, as follows:
‘The school that has been part of the community since 1856. I understand that neither the Federation school in Sharow, that this school merged with and is, I am told, not perfect with its own problems, nor NYCC, discussed the matter with the Skelton community or its Parish Council in the build up to the decision to consult on the proposed closure whilst parents were being advised from the beginning of the September 2022 school year to find places for their children at new schools for the September 2023 school year, thus driving out pupils from the school ! Parents and Newby Estate, who own the school land, heard about all this last November!
Trying to be constructive I would like to think that, in future, whenever any school in North Yorkshire is in danger of closure , because of a pattern of warning signs from falling school numbers , then this information should be shared with both NYC Councillors and Parish/Town Councils , much earlier, so they can help with any other ideas that would prevent closure.
There appears to be little evidence of marketing the school to residents in the village of Skelton or to other residents in the new 800 house developments within 5 miles or so of the school.
Can I suggest that perhaps we should think beyond the box here and have a short delay to the decision under review in order to look at having or supporting
In the light of the recent budget and the proposed increase in child care provision, to enable more much needed employment opportunities, surely a 1.5 acre school site would lend itself perfectly for nursery provision in a lovely, rural and safe environment set in a great rural setting which, properly marketed, would, I believe be very popular with local residents who will see its benefits.’
Finally, County Councillor Nick Brown queried what the position was regarding merging the school’s catchment area with Kirby Hill, and expressed serious concern that it would move Skelton Village out of the current Ripon Grammar School catchment area.
In response, Annabel Wilkinson Executive Member for Education, Learning & Skills confirmed that
· Parents/carers and the Skelton Newby Hall Estate had been notified on 22 November 2022 that governors, had with regret, asked the County Council to consult on closure proposals for Skelton Newby Hall CE Primary School.
· The Parish Council, like other consultees, had been sent a copy of the consultation document at the start of the consultation process, and that officers were confident that a full and detailed consultation had been carried out.
· Leaders and Governors continued to maximise the range of shared experiences through the Federation. Support had been provided by the LA School Improvement Team, and since the start of the Autumn term, governors and leaders had accessed support from an experienced National Leader in Governance.
· The federated governing body had worked very hard to recruit governors. In a federation, governors represent all schools within a federation rather than individual communities.
· No responses to the consultation had been received from other local schools offering federation or alternative arrangements to allow Skelton Newby Hall School to remain open.
· The school currently only one child on the school roll, who was due to move to secondary provision at the end of this academic year, and from September 2023 the school would have no pupils on roll.
· The school site and building were privately owned and therefore the Authority had no say in its future use.
· Once there was talk of a possible closure, parents tended to vote with their feet, which was frustrating but the Authority had no option but to follow the prescribed process.
Members agreed it would be helpful in the future if the early warning signs of a possible closure could be communicated with Councillors (and Parish Councillors) on a confidential basis.
Having taken account of all the information provided, the Executive reluctantly agreed the reasons for the proposal to close the school as laid out in the report, were correct and that closure of the school would be in the best interest of the future education of pupils in the area.
With that in mind, they voted unanimously in favour of the recommendations, and it was
Resolved – That:
i. Statutory proposals and notices be published on 30 March 2023 proposing to cease to maintain Skelton Newby Hall CE Primary School with effect from 31 August 2023; and proposing that the catchment area of Kirby Hill CE VC be expanded with effect from 1 September 2023 to serve the area currently served by Skelton Newby Hall CE VC School.
ii. a final decision on those proposals be scheduled for the Executive meeting on 30 May 2023.