Rural primary school may not reopen for new school year

Shelton with Hardwick Community Primary School headteacher Laura Jestico with pupils in 2017. The sc

Shelton with Hardwick Community Primary School headteacher Laura Jestico with pupils in 2017. The school is facing closure due to low pupil numbers. Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Pupils at a rural Norfolk primary school may not be returning in September if proposals to shut it get the go-ahead.

Norfolk County Council is proposing to close Shelton with Hardwick Community Primary School from December 31, 2019, following a request from the school's governing body.

In a consultation document the council said all parents had requested to move their children to other schools from September, after the school wrote to them in April about staffing changes for the 2019/20 academic year.

The document, published in June, said the school had recently seen a decline in pupils numbers with many of its current cohort coming from out its catchment area. According to Ofsted, it has 29 pupils aged four to 11 with 23 empty places.

With pupil numbers forecast to stay low over the next few years the council said keeping the school open would be financially unsustainable, as government funding for schools is tied to the number of pupils on roll.

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If the proposed closure goes ahead, the school will not take any pupils in the new academic year in September and will officially close on December 31, and the catchment area for Hempnall Primary School will be extended to accommodate the change.

Parents and governors at both schools as well as the local community were asked for their views in a consultation which closed last week.

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Alison Thomas, Conservative county councillor for Long Stratton, highlighted the potential closure at a full council meeting at County Hall on Monday.

She said: "This was proposed by the governing body due to falling rolls and, regrettably, there will be no children in Shelton from September.

"This is partly because of a planning system which does not allow development in rural communities.

"This is a good example of what happens when you do not grant permission for communities to grow organically."

John Fisher, cabinet member for children's services at Norfolk County Council, said: "This is a small school where the parents and governors have requested us to carry out consultation for closure.

"There are certain statutory requirements and we are going through them.

"The final decision rests with the director of children's services and I will be having discussions with her at the end of the consultation.

"The decision will then be made and closure of the school would happen at the end of a statutory period from then."

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