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Scarecrows to help save school from closure

[Monday 15 November 2010]

A village in the Yorkshire Dales at risk of losing its primary school has enlisted the help of its scarecrows in its battle against council education officials.

Parents and villagers in Kettlewell near Skipton are accusing their council of riding roughshod over them and their children in a bid to close their primary school. And they have brought out some of the scarecrows seen in the Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival each August, the festival that has put Kettlewell on the map with people from all corners of the country. The festival was set up in 1994 specifically to raise money for the school.

Kettlewell Primary School – together with nearby Arncliffe Primary School – has been earmarked for closure by North Yorkshire County Council in a move that has produced fury in the local communities. Teachers, governors, parents and local villagers say Kettlewell School proves that small is beautiful. It has been given a top rating of Outstanding by government inspectors and is stable in terms of roll numbers and finances for at least the next two years. Long term averages of attainment by Year 6 pupils leaving for secondary school are significantly higher than the norm.

Richard Humpidge, Chair of Governors at Kettlewell Primary School, said: “Small schools perform better. It’s all part of the small is beautiful ethos – an intimate teaching environment, the big kids looking after the small ones, and the close bonds with the local community.”

Closure of Kettlewell and Arncliffe schools would condemn children as young as four or five to a long, lonely bus ride of up to 17 miles from their homes or even more. The council admits a reasonable time for very young children to be on a school bus should be no more than 45 minutes but the journey time from remote Oughtershaw (where some pupils are based) to Grassington (where they would be sent if Kettlewell and Arncliffe Schools closed) would be 55 minutes with the possibility of even longer journeys for children living further afield. Inevitably it could all lead to more cars on narrow country roads as parents decide to drive their children to school themselves or are obliged to drive further to collect them following after-school activities.

And there are wider concerns about the effect closure would have on the community. The parish council believes the decision process is paying no more than lip service to statutory requirements to take into account the social and community welfare of the area and how it might be damaged by closure. Kettlewell in particular is a much-visited chocolate-box village in the Yorkshire Dales National Park but people who live there don’t want the village to be purely a tourist destination.

Chris Beazely, Chair of Kettlewell-with-Starbotton Parish Council, said: “I am worried that losing our school could cost the community its future. Young families make a village. Without a school I’m not sure many will want to stay. No-one here wants to see what is now a living, vibrant village turn into just a walk-around museum.”

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