The plight of small rural primary schools

“Leaders of small, rural primary schools fear that funding constraints could see their school closed, a poll has revealed.

Primary schools in England with less than 150 pupils are being forced to cut back spending on things like equipment, teaching assistant hours and building maintenance, according to a survey by the National Association of Headteachers union.

The survey, which heard from 10% of 3,614 small schools, found that 42% of leaders were concerned about the possible closure of their school with a lack of funding given as the primary cause (84%).

Low or fluctuating pupil numbers was another key reason given for potential closures, with 73% citing this as the most likely cause.

The NAHT found that 70% had reduced investment in equipment, 67% have cut hours for teaching assistants and 60% have spent less on their building maintenance “in recent years”.

Speaking at the NAHT’s primary schools conference in London today, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: “Small schools are at the heart of our local and rural communities. But as one of the groups hit hardest by budget cuts, for thousands of small schools the future remains uncertain.

“This is a terrible state of affairs when you think about how about vital these schools are. In many places, the school is the last public service left standing in their community. The post office, the police station, the library, the community centre have all gone.

“We cannot allow the school to be next. These schools may be small, but their loss would be incalculable.”

The poll found 41% of school leaders surveyed said they received additional funding through the National Funding Formula for being a small school, such as ‘sparsity funding’ – brought in to protect small schools.

But even those that did, 84% said it was not enough to provide “reasonable budget stability”.

James Bowen, NAHT director of policy, said: “All schools have suffered as a result of budget cuts, but small schools have been hit particularly hard. These schools play a vital role in their communities and they must be protected.”

Bowen added that current funding arrangements are “clearly” not working for small primary schools. …”