In December 2017, I wrote a post on this blog about the DfE’s list of rural primary schools. At that point there were four such schools within the Greater London boroughs that were designated by the DfE as ‘rural’. In the 2019 list, published today there are now five such schools. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rural-primary-schools-designation
The two each in Hillingdon and Enfield have been joined at some point in time by Downe Primary School in Bromley, classified as being in an area of ‘Rural hamlet and isolated dwellings’. For those living in truly rural areas, the notion that somewhere within Greater London can be categorised as ‘rural’ might seem a bit of a joke. But, I am sure that for the residents using these schools that are located in what is presumably ‘green belt’ locations, the designation as ‘rural’ seems accurate. However, it is still within the TfL transport area, so pupils attending the schools from within the Greater London area can have free travel on the 146 bus, or presumably the R8 as well.
Across England, this year, the DfE has classified 3,353 primary schools as being in ‘rural’ .locations. The designation is important, as with school rolls in the primary sector now falling, and the absurdities of the National Funding Formula view of equality not yet fully understood, the added protection from closure being a ‘rural’ school provides may still be useful in the future.
However, it won’t stop closures happening. Culham Parochial Church of England School in Oxfordshire is shown in the table as, ‘open, and proposed to close’ and the County Council has now agreed that the school should close as it is no longer a viable education establishment in its own right. This follows a series of battles over its future, stretching back into at least the late 1980s. This fate also hangs over another 26 primary schools in the list, including five schools in Nottinghamshire and three in Staffordshire.
Fifteen of the 26 schools proposed for closure are designated as Church of England schools. This reveals something of the heritage of schooling in England as we approach the 150th anniversary of State Funded Schools next year. It would be interesting to know the date when these schools, now up for closure, were first opened. There is fertile ground here for those interested in the history of education in England. I gather that this subject is being considered as a topic for an optional module in a Masters’ level degree currently being put together by the University of Buckingham. Such units or modules already exist in some other programmes.
There are many interesting stories contained within this list of schools. Picking just two at random. The Bliss Charity School in Northamptonshire was first opened several centuries ago, and the Charity still owns the former school house built for a head teacher in the Nineteenth Century. The rent from the house is used to fund extras at the school. Holy island Church of England First School in Northumberland is federated with a school on the mainland and is shown in some DfE tables as currently having just one pupil. The school web site says that ‘Holy Island and Lowick C of E First Schools are a federation – the children study together at Lowick with the children who live on the island coming to Lowick when the tide allows.’
There are many more interesting stories within the rich tapestry of our school system. Will these be lost because of a rigid financial system that takes little or no account of communities and their needs? I hope not.