CAMPAIGNERS battling a proposal to close a small rural school have spoken of their surprise and delight after council leaders voted to givc it a stay of execution.

Members of North Yorkshire County Council’s executive said while Clapham Primary in the Yorkshire Dales would have to overcome numerous challenges before its future was secured, the community had shown a huge appetite to retain the 150-year-old institution.

The move has been greeted as a milestone in a movement being vigorously pursued by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and Richmondshire and Craven district councils to retain small schools in rural areas, despite financial and academic challenges.

The meeting at County Hall, in Northallerton, heard the school’s governing body had initially asked the authority to consider closure due to pupil numbers falling from 42 in 2014/15 to 28.

However, members were told governors now believed with a new housing development and properties being reserved for local families on an estate, the school’s roll was likely to rise.

The council’s education boss, Councillor Patrick Mulligan, said he believed the governors had created a viable plan to overcome funding pressures and concerns over the school’s ability to provide a sufficiently broad curriculum.

He added: “The breadth of education is becoming a priority for Ofsted and in North Yorkshire it is quite a challenge for us. We have the most schools with 50 or fewer pupils in the country.”

Cllr Mulligan said, in making the decision to allow the governors to implement their recovery plan, the authority had also accepted that the village school was a key factor in the pupils social and emotional wellbeing.

Nevertheless, the school’s governors were repeatedly warned the council could withdraw its support if the recovery plan did not yield significant changes.

After the meeting, campaigners said they had been taken aback by the council’s willingness to listen and respond to their views, following protests over other school closures failing.

Iain Crossley, chair of Clapham Community Action Group said efforts to convince more parents to send their children to the school would be stepped up and challenges facing the school included attracting a new head teacher.

He said: “We are really very pleased that the council has listened to us. We think they have given us an opportunity to develop the school and we think the school now has a really good future.”

Mr Crossley added the council appeared to have recognised the importance of its network of small schools to small rural communities.