A COUNCIL which is running a commission into how rural communities can be safeguarded has been urged to change or postpone its plans to shut another small Yorkshire Dales school, after villagers claimed the closure would condemn them to “a geriatric ghetto”.

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive will next week consider proposals to close Clapham Primary School from August following the apparent failure of a community campaign to save the school last year which saw £15,000 raised in just a few days.

The meeting will hear how pupil numbers at the school has dramatically declined in recent years and, after an Ofsted inspection last June judged standards at the school to have dropped to inadequate in all areas, last month there were just seven children on the roll.

A report to the executive states funding deficits at the school are now expected to be much worse with the reduction in pupil numbers and there is “no reasonable prospect of recovery”.

Matthew Atkinson, an executive headteacher who was brought in to Clapham school last year, has told the consultation that he could not see a viable future for the school.

He said: “It saddens me that we can barely organise a playground game. Classroom activities are so hard to deliver with such limited children.  I genuinely wanted to turn this schools fortunes around but I cannot see a feasible future for the school.”

Councillor Patrick Mulligan, the council’s executive member for education, told a consultation meeting the decision to close the school was ultimately about ensuring the social, personal, and emotional wellbeing of the children.

Residents raised fears for the future of Clapham once the school was gone and questioned whether the council was “being true to its own commitments”.

Cllr Mulligan responded saying the council was facing enormous challenges with the large number of small rural schools in the county and confirmed the authority does not have a plan of rural school closures.

However, the council’s executive will hear the consultation has seen numerous residents press for changes to the council’s proposed new school catchment area to give parents more choice and cut travelling distances to ease the impact on the rural community.

But the council said to include the nearest school for some, Ingleton, in the revised catchment area would mean additional school transport costs to the £10,000 to £20,000 extra the authority was facing with the Clapham school’s closure.

Some residents said the council needed to follow statutory guidance on school closures which tells decision-makers to “provide evidence to show they have carefully considered… the overall and long-term impact on the local community of the closure of the village school…”

Others said the proposal resurrected concerns over the authority’s commitment to maintaining rural schools and highlighted how its Rural Commission was seeking ways in which to “…maximise the sustainability of the super-sparse rural communities…” and to find ways in which to “halt and reverse rural decline”.

One mother told the consultation: “People with young families who have been born and bred in this area already face a struggle to remain in the area they have grown up in and pay extortionate rents and mortgages for the privilege of doing so.

“In addition to this, we, in this area, pay a considerable amount in council tax compared to our counterparts in the city yet our public services have been, and continue to be, cut to the bone.

“Unfortunately it is getting to the stage where this area will be a place where young families just can’t afford to stay and I’m sad to say closure of Clapham School is yet another step in that direction.”

Calling on the council to postpone the school’s closure until after the Rural Commission has released its findings, another resident stated: “The decision to close Clapham school would condemn the village to housing an ageing community with fewer children and young people as families of prospective residents look elsewhere for a home near a school for their children. Clapham would become a geriatric ghetto.”