Agenda item

Public Participation

Members of the public may ask questions or make statements at this meeting if they have given notice to Alice Fox of Democratic and Scrutiny Services and supplied the text (contact details below) by midday on 12th April, three working days before the day of the meeting.  Each speaker should limit themselves to 3 minutes on any item.  Members of the public who have given notice will be invited to speak:-

·         at this point in the meeting if their questions/statements relate to matters which are not otherwise on the Agenda (subject to an overall time limit of 30 minutes);

·         when the relevant Agenda item is being considered if they wish to speak on a matter which is on the Agenda for this meeting.

If you are exercising your right to speak at this meeting, but do not wish to be recorded, please inform the Chair who will instruct anyone who may be taking a recording to cease while you speak.



Two public statements had been received from members of the public and read as follows:


Statement 1

Dear Councillors,


My name is Steven Ledger and I’m a former parent of Fountains Earth CofE Primary School in Lofthouse. 


7 years ago I relocated to Lofthouse from Durham for a job opportunity in the area. The main concern of my wife and I about relocating was our children’s schooling. Having visited Fountains Earth prior to accepting the job offer we were lost for words. The teaching staff, office staff and the headteacher were all second to none. After seeing the evidence of what this small yet fantastically equipped school was achieving, we relocated. After just three months at Fountains Earth our daughter’s academic abilities had improved to a standard much beyond recognition. She excelled, as did her older brother. He was only there for a short time as he moved up to high school shortly afterwards, but the few months he spent at Fountains Earth saw his confidence soar. 


At this time there were approximately 15 children in attendance, with 2 full time teachers and 1 part time teacher alongside office staff and a cook/lunchtime assistant. The one to one teaching and attention that each child received had an incredibly positive impact on their schooling as well as their emotional well-being. They were all happy, safe and learning. Our daughter was excited to go to school each day. The school really was second to none and was very much the heart of the community. Communication was excellent and parents were invited into school regularly to see the children’s progress and achievements.


A group made up of local residents and parents (FOLS) did a lot of fundraising and this made up any shortage of funding for things such as school trip and  swimming lessons. Much of the time, funds were raised above what was needed, so that paid for a party for the children at the end of the school year. I think it’s important for me to mention this as it goes to show that Fountains Earth was financially viable.


Towards the end of 2021, new management took over. Shortly afterwards, the cook left and hot meals were stopped. A replacement was employed and was a sent to St Cuthberts to pick up sandwiches on a Monday. These were stored and served throughout the week, ultimately being stale by Wednesday. This was also stopped eventually, and the children had to have packed lunches from home. The original, much loved teacher suddenly left, with no warning or explanation to the children or the parents.


Other staff left one by one within 6 months, again with no explanation. The school then relied on temporary agency staff with a different one every week. The children were left confused, unsettled and their leaning disrupted. Work was usually generic worksheets  rather than structured teaching. All communication with parents was stopped, therefore all confidence and trust we once had in the school evaporated. Any meetings between parents and the school, and also public meetings regarding its future, were attended by Governors rather than management. 


Our daughter now attends Summerbridge Primary School. This is a 45 minute round trip twice a day. This school isn’t part of the Federation however there are 9 other children in my daughter’s class who have moved there from the Federation since the new management took over. 3 of these children are from Fountains Earth which means 6 of them in that age group are from St Cuthbert’s and Glasshouses, and that is a huge red flag. 


A petition was made and received over 500 signatures from Yorkshire residents calling for an investigation into the management of the Federation. We, amongst many other residents, moved to the area safe in the knowledge that a fantastic school was here for our children. Without this school, I feel that less families will move to the area, local businesses will lose custom and potential staff and housing will ultimately be turned into holiday homes and Air B&B’s. This isn’t an economically or socially acceptable way for our beautiful dale to foresee its future. 


Pupil numbers at Fountains Earth would have risen year on year according to our parents’ survey. The numbers you have received from Governors are not accurate. I believe that parents, both new and old, would be willing to enrol their children at fountains earth providing there was a change of management. We would love our youngest daughter to attend Fountains Earth when she turns school age in 2026. 


I finish by pleading with you to investigate the whole management of the Upper Nidderdale Federation and to reconsider the closure of the school and the impact it will have on our whole community. 


Respectfully Yours,

Steven Ledger


Statement 2

Good afternoon, my name is Stephen Ramsden, chairman of Upper Nidderdale Parish Council.


It is very unfortunate that we have got into a situation where our local primary school, Fountains Earth Primary School, Lofthouse is on the brink of closure.


For some time, there were warning signs that there was poor communication, trust, and honesty between the parents and the Upper Nidderdale Federation, and although a North Yorkshire Council officer did visit the school in May 2023, nothing was done to correct these issues. All the parents then left the school, moving their children to other primary schools outside this Federation.


Alarm bells should also be sounding at St Cuthberts, Pateley Bridge [part of the same Federation] where the pupil numbers are approximately 48 today, with a capacity of 119. Both Dacre Brathwaite and Summerbridge primary schools are more or less full, at approximately 90 pupils each.


In the medium to long term, losing our school will have a dramatic effect on our community, with the potential loss of young families and no potential young families moving into our area.


Any rural school closure makes it harder for young farming and gamekeeping families to live and work in remoter areas, where the school daily commute becomes a 40/50 miles a day, rather than 5-10 mile trip in our case. This is at a time when due to higher “council tax” on holiday and second homes, these are either being relet or sold back onto the open market. In the medium to long-term this will increase our rural population with young children, but potentially not if there is no local primary school. 


The village school is the heart of any strong rural community, but with the partnership of young families, our community, good school management and North Yorkshire Council this situation can be turned round, and I would urge councillors and council officers to seriously look at keeping the "school open" for a September 2024 start.


The public statements were noted by the Committee and the responses to them were addressed by the Corporate Director of Children and Young People’s Services:

Response to Statement 1

The Corporate Director explained that Governors in LA schools have three core functions: 1) that the vision, ethos and strategic direction of the school are clearly defined; 2) that the Headteacher performs their responsibilities for the educational performance of the school and 3) that there is sound, proper and effective use of the school’s financial resources. The national funding formula for schools sets out the level of funding applied to each school. Over time in North Yorkshire, we have seen many small schools struggle to meet the running costs as stand-alone schools and this has brought groups of schools together to operate as a Federation and share costs.


Fountains Earth moved from being a stand-alone school, to being part of a two-school and then a three-school Federation. This enabled the school to benefit through shared leadership and support staff costs.  However, the governing board of a Federation is still obliged to review and make decisions that are in the interests of each school and for the Federation as a whole.  We know that the Federation board have had to consider this and take necessary action to reflect each school’s budget share without one school having a disproportionate impact on other schools.


We know from the school that they had trouble recruiting and retaining teaching staff due to the single class teaching arrangement and the remote location of the school, and this has led to a series of temporary teaching arrangements at Fountains Earth. Governors have had to rely on the support of staff appointed to other schools in the Federation and at times, agency staff, to ensure the school has been able to operate on a day-to-day basis for some time.  This is one of the factors put forward when the consultation was requested.


The comment made about pupil number forecasts being inaccurate was one of the reasons Governors withdrew their initial request to the council for a consultation. Work was undertaken to seek information from the community about the suggested increase in numbers and the forecast was updated to reflect the findings.


It was in fulfilling their functions responsibly that Governors approached the Council to consider the future of the school but only after they had exhausted all other avenues to put the school on a sustainable footing. Whilst there were pupils in school, Governors were diligent in their oversight of finances (managing the revenue budget and looking ahead at pupil forecasts) and in their efforts to maintain the best possible education standards for pupils - resulting in the good Ofsted outcome being maintained.


With regards to the petition and the request for an investigation into the leadership and governance of the school:

- A public question was submitted to the Skipton and Ripon Area Constituency Committee meeting on 14th December 2023 regarding the leadership of the Upper Nidderdale Federation.

- A response was provided, and both the question and the response were presented in full within the Executive report for the meeting on 23rd  January 2024.

- The response clarified that the duty to establish procedures for dealing with complaints lies with the governing body and not the Council. Only complaints outside of the scope of the school’s policy would be considered elsewhere by either the DfE or Ofsted.  About one year ago North Yorkshire Children’s Services did receive correspondence about the school and signposted the writer towards the school’s complaints policy. The Council also provided information at that time about how to escalate the concerns to other organisations if required. If parents, staff or community members have new concerns about the school, officers would advise them to raise these using the appropriate schools complaints procedure.


- At the Skipton and Ripon ACC meeting on 7th March 2024, a petition ‘seeking the investigation into the leadership’ was received.  The officer report explained: The petition states that ‘This investigation should carefully assess the leadership and management of the Upper Nidderdale Federation, including their academic performance, financial stability, community engagement and communication with parents.’ All four of these areas (performance, financial stability, community engagement and communication) are the responsibility of governing boards and as such would need to be considered through the governing board’s own procedures for managing complaints.


- Draft minutes from the ACC meeting on 7th March state:


Following their statements, Members discussed the petition for a period of fifteen minutes.  Members were made aware of the options available to them, as detailed in Paragraph 5.1 of the report.  The key points are summarised below:


·     Amanda Newbold, Assistant Director, Education and Skills, clarified to Members that the school was not an academy, but instead a school maintained by the Council.

·       There was uncertainty as to whether the Council is responsible for carrying out an investigation.  Members felt that further review would be beneficial to establish the situation. 

·       It was proposed and seconded that the petition be referred to the Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee.  A review by this Committee should not contest the potential closure of the school but be a general investigation into the leadership of the Upper Nidderdale Federation.

It was noted that no decision has been made to close the school, and a report will be considered by the Council’s Executive on 19th March 2024.


A vote was taken on the motion and there was unanimous support.


Resolved –


a)    That, the Skipton and Ripon Area Constituency Committee refers the petition to Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee for further investigation.


The Corporate Director explained that the item was referred to in the report for the recent Executive meeting on 19th March 2024.  The referral to Overview and Scrutiny will be discussed at the Mid-Cycle Briefing of the Committee on 26th April.  The Scrutiny Committee has no role or remit in investigating school leadership or individual schools.  Consequently, the petition and the request for an investigation will not form part of today’s meeting. 


Response to Statement 2

As part of their routine monitoring, North Yorkshire Council officers from various teams including school improvement, schools finance and strategic planning have been working with the governing board of the school/ Federation over several years. This is the role of the Council in maintained schools and has, in this case, often been undertaken alongside education colleagues from Leeds Diocese. The Council does not ‘manage’ schools: management responsibilities are delegated to the governing body and leadership of the school.


Until the Governors raised the issue of the school’s long-term viability and shared their thoughts about a consultation on closure with the wider community (initially in June 2022), the community had not raised any significant issues about the school.


Any concerns that have since been highlighted have been directed to the Governing Board where they relate to matters that are the delegated responsibility of the Board. Other matters e.g. safeguarding have been addressed by relevant Council teams.


Pupil numbers at other schools are not the subject of this meeting, nor relate to the closure of Fountains Earth School. However, it may be useful to clarify that parents are able to apply to any school of their choice and providing there are places available, the admissions authority (often the LA) has a duty to facilitate a fair admissions process. We know that there are more primary school places in the local area than there are children to fill the potential capacity of all schools. We also know that overall numbers of children in the local area have decreased over many years.


We realise the importance of schools in rural communities; despite this, the facts facing us now are that the Council cannot keep open schools where there are no pupils on roll and no pupil-led funding allocation to cover the associated costs of doing so.


The Chair thanked Mr Ledger and Mr Ramsden for their statements and the Corporate Director for his response.