Fears more Harrogate schools could follow in footsteps of closure-threatened Woodfield primary

Harrogate councillors have called for the reversal of closure plans for Woodfield Primary School as they also expressed fears that many more schools facing difficulties could follow in its footsteps.

By Jacob Webster
Friday, 8th July 2022, 10:24 am
Updated Friday, 8th July 2022, 12:23 pm
Woodfield Primary School could close in December.
Woodfield Primary School could close in December.

A consultation on the proposed closure ended this week after the school failed to find an academy sponsor to take it over.

At a Harrogate Borough Council meeting yesterday, councillors spoke in support of parents and staff who say the school should stay open because it is a "vital" part of the community.

Councillor Philip Broadbank said it was "sad to see how a once thriving school now finds itself in this position".

He added those "closely involved in the school feel let down by Ofsted, the government and its academisation policy".

Councillor Broadbank said: "A series of attempts have been made by hard-working, dedicated staff and there is a genuine desire to see this community facility stay open.

"Some people say the situation is being driven by an ideological academisation agenda which threatens the very future of more schools in North Yorkshire.

"Many schools are already in financial deficits and this is expected to get worse."

The government has outlined plans for all schools to join academies by 2030 in a nationwide expansion of the model which sees schools receive funding directly rather than through a local authority.

Academy-run schools are overseen by charitable bodies called trusts which have more freedom of areas such as pupil admissions.

Woodfield Primary School was rated as inadequate and put into special measures by Ofsted in 2020 before being ordered to find an academy sponsor.

However, the Regional Schools Commissioner was unable to secure a backer.

The school - which has seen pupil numbers fall from 154 to just 37 in four years - was then set to merge with Grove Road Primary School before the nearby school pulled out of the proposals.

Woodfield Primary School now faces the prospect of closing for good in December.

This comes at a time when Baldersby St James Church of England Primary School near Thirsk is due to close next month and governors at Fountains Earth CE Primary School in Lofthouse have recently requested a closure consultation.

Kell Bank Church of England Primary School in Masham also closed last year when its 200-year history came to an end.

For Woodfield Primary School, the next stage of the process will see North Yorkshire County Council's executive meet on 19 July to decide whether to publish statutory closure proposals.

A further four-week consultation would then follow ahead of a final decision by the council on 19 October.

Councillor Matt Scott, who represents the Bilton Woodfield ward, told yesterday's meeting that while the school has had its "fair share" of challenges, he believes it should stay open because it now "benefits from really excellent staff and a quality governing body".

He said: "The school is a brilliant building - it is connected to an excellent library staffed by committed local volunteers. As a whole, the site is really a first class facility.

"It is right that this council sends a message to the education authority that there is a future here."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter