AN education authority facing a funding crisis has dismissed claims that the closure of numerous small schools has been part of a secret money-saving scheme.

As North Yorkshire County Council’s executive approved steps to close the 360-year-old Arkengarthdale Primary School in the Yorkshire Dales after pupil numbers fell to five, its members said they were dismayed by the loss of another small, rural school.

While there were more than 170 primary schools in the county in 2004 with fewer than 100 pupils, the council now oversees about 110 small schools.

Alongside the closure of the 12-pupil school at Horton-in-Ribblesdale in July 2017, other school gates have been closed for the final time in Drax, Rathmell, Ingleby Arncliffe, Skipton Ings, Swainby and Potto and Burnt Yates, while a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the future of West Burton School.

The closures have been greeted with alarm by community leaders, particularly in national parks, where the presence of a school is seen as key to retaining families in the community.

The authority’s leader, Councillor Carl Les told the executive the authority had been accused of trying to claw back money by closing small schools. He said small schools continued to be very good places for learning as long as they had more than about 20 pupils.

Cllr Les said: “It is a very sad day when we have to approve a consultation about a school closure. We don’t do this lightly, but the numbers of children at Arkengarthdale have fallen to such a level that the school is no longer viable and it certainly isn’t providing a quality education.”

To help maintain smaller schools, the authority sets aside some schools block funding for a Falling Rolls Fund to support good or outstanding schools with falling rolls, where planning data shows surplus places will be needed within three years.

Cllr Les said the authority was pressing the Government for a core fund that gets put into a school to allow it to operate irrespective of the pupil numbers.

He said: “The county council does not have a programme of closure, it actually costs us money when a school is closed so we are certainly not doing it for financial reasons. We only consider the closure of a school at the request of the governing body.”