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Village schools saved from closure

Plans by Northumberland County Council...

...to reorganise schools in the west of the county could have led to the closure of up to fifteen schools, with serious consequences for the quality of life in the affected villages. Alerted by CPRE member Trudi Macgregor, governor of Greenhaugh School, CPRE gave immediate support to the campaign of opposition, writing to warn the Council of the negative impact the closures would have on the sustainability and social cohesion of many villages, not to mention the threat of disruption to children's education of closing so many schools with good and even outstanding Ofsted reports.

The Council published details of three different schemes and conducted a survey inviting people to comment on them. But what the response made clear was the outright opposition of many village residents, Parish Councils, school governors and even the local MP, Guy Opperman. The Councillors were forced to think again and they have now decided to withdraw all three schemes and close only one school. As Trudi put it when she wrote to thank us for our support, 'This is great news. Everyone here is relieved and delighted and we are now busy trying to ensure the small schools continue to prosper'.

The importance of village schools

Village schools are capable of providing an excellent education, often by making a virtue of necessity. Classes containing children from two year groups give the older children the opportunity to act as peer-group tutors, benefiting both younger 'pupils' and older 'tutors' by developing in them a mature, responsible approach to other children. Villages may have on the face of it fewer facilities to support learning than are available in towns, but village schools often make more of what they do have. Interaction with the village and its community offers many valuable educational experiences, with the key features of church, village shop and green, local trades, parish council and WI. Good village schools are able to feed many of these experiences into the National Curriculum. As a Schools Inspector wrote recently after visiting Greenhaugh School, '...the curriculum is enriched in a myriad of ways. Pupils benefit from a wide variety of trips, first-hand practical experiences and visiting experts such as geologists and authors'.

Villagers often have, compared to 'townies', a greater sense of community cohesion and collective responsibility. Many of them will give up time voluntarily to help children, with their reading for instance, or with 'events' in the school's calendar. Village children, too, often feel a greater sense of belonging to a close-knit community in a smaller world than town children encounter. Village events become part of school life and vice-versa. Ofsted inspectors often comment in their reports on the good behaviour in village schools, and the confident progress made by slower learners in their supportive atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the benefits children get from their village schools are only part of the picture. There are equal benefits to the villages themselves from the presence of a school. Young families are vital to the regeneration of all communities and are especially important in villages to help provide a demographic balance offsetting the influx these days of older, especially retired, couples. When villages lose their schools then young families will drift away, and with them will go facilities like bus services and mobile libraries The web of connections that hold society together means that changes in one aspect of village life will trigger others that we will eventually come to regret. Village schools are part of the fabric of rural community life, making an important contribution to its health, its optimism and its vital energy. We should be celebrating and supporting them, not closing them down.

 

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