This is the sort of pub quiz question that can only be answered by those that follow the DfE website and the many detailed updates to our knowledge about the education system that appear from time to time. According to the DfE’s latest announcement, there are 4,673 primary schools that qualify for the designation ‘rural’ under the annual order published as a Statutory Instrument this year on the 29th September and that came into force on the 1st October. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rural-primary-schools-designation Unlike most SIs this one is signed not by a Minister but by a DfE official.
For those of you that thought London was an entirely urban area, there are six primary schools in London boroughs designated as ‘rural’ schools. One of these is the Forty Hill Church of England Primary School in the north of the Borough of Enfield. Located within the M25 it sits in an area of green belt adjacent to its parish church on a very restricted site just nine miles from the centre of London. Originally built as an all-age elementary school in 1851, some 20 years before the advent of formal state education, it now has 238 primary age pupils wanting a church school education.
According to the DfE Forty Hill School is classified as being located in a category defined as ‘Hamlet and Isolated Dwelling – less sparse’ as opposed to one of the other categories such as ‘Town and Village – less sparse’ and ‘Village – sparse’ as well as the really rural ‘Hamlet and Isolated Dwelling – sparse’.
Of course, compared with Kielder First School in Northumberland, Forty Hill might be considered quite an urban school. According to the DfE, Kielder has but 13 pupils aged between 5-9 with three teachers and two classes and a unit cost of over £14,000 per pupil. Earlier this year Ofsted reported that it was ‘outstanding’ having improved since its previous inspection. Schools like this one exist because, especially in winter, it would be challenging or even impossible to transport the pupils from the adjacent area to the next nearest school.
For many rural schools this isn’t the case, and from time to time local authorities have had various degrees of success in amalgamating rural schools into larger units. However, such is the love of all schools threatened with closure that apart from amalgamating separate infant and junior schools into a single primary school there have been relatively few large-scale schemes of amalgamation except where authorities have removed a three tier system and reverted to the ‘normal’ two-tier system with a transfer age at eleven.
Now that the smallest school can convert to an academy the geography of primary schools in rural England is likely to remain much as it currently is until a policy change forces a re-think. However, with ever younger children in schools, and a growing school population, this isn’t likely to be an issue high up anyone’s agenda for the next decade. As a result, perhaps the DfE can stop this annual exercise and save some more cash.