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Village primary schools close as families migrate

They also warned that the problem, which is accelerating, is now so great that 200 small primary schools in rural England could close over the next five years, as local authorities look to make efficiency savings and streamline the delivery of services.

The news comes as thousands of children return to school this week for the new academic year. 

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Federation reveal that between 2004 and 2008, 62 rural primary schools closed permanently, an average of 12 a year – with 13 in 2008, 14 in 2007 and 13 in 2006.

This is the highest level of closures since the 1990s. Just one small rural primary school closed in 2001 and 13 primary schools closed in rural areas between 2000 and 2003, an average of just three a year. 

During the 1970s, 80s and 90s many small rural primary schools were closed, with 30 a year being shut up to 1997. 

This prompted government guidance to councils in 1998 to presume that rural primary schools should not close. 

However, declining numbers of children in many rural areas has prompted many councils to start shutting village schools again. 

A lack of affordable homes in rural areas is driving thousands of young people and families from the countryside to urban areas every year – with villages becoming increasingly populated by older people, wealthy commuters and second home owners. 

The shocking figures on school closures comes as further evidence that traditional village life is in terminal decline, as record numbers of rural shops and pubs also close. 

The gentrification of much of the countryside has priced out families and young people who support local schools, shops and pubs so vital to traditional village life, with the number of people on waiting lists for an affordable home in rural England has rocketed to 750,000.

The Federation, which represents England’s housing associations, estimates around 100,000 new affordable homes are required in England alone to meet rural housing need over the next 10 years. 

The Federation is calling on local housing authorities to draw up action plans to address the housing needs of their communities, and ensure that local villages are sustainable.

Rural house prices tend to be well above the national average, while rural incomes are well below the national average – and this affordability gap has widened over the last five years. 

But a failure to assess local housing need often means that desperately needed affordable homes are never built.

Federation director Ruth Davison said: “The foundations of traditional village life are rapidly disappearing as a lack of affordable housing turns many rural areas into family-free zones. 

“We’ve already seen village shops and pubs close in record numbers, and if the schools close too – community life in many rural areas will be wiped out. 

“Local authorities need to assess just how many affordable homes are needed in each rural ward, and draw up action plans to get those homes delivered, before more small village schools are closed and traditional village life dies on its feet.”

NASS information officer Mervyn Benford said: “Wholesale closures, banned by the Government ten years ago, have returned to haunt the rural educational landscape.

“The tragedy is that small schools represent one of the most overall effective educational models yet developed. And of all the services that bind communities together the school is perhaps the more significant and the more vital to defend.

“Quite simply small rural schools are at the heart of sustainable village life.” 

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “Inequality is at the root of most, if not all, our social problems, and the pricing of families and young people out of our countryside is just one example of a rural idyll marred by social disadvantage.

“While the involuntary exodus of young families from our villages is yet another indication of the ever-growing wealth divide of our society, these rural migrants are also leaving behind about 900,000 children currently living in poverty in rural areas throughout the UK. 

“The Government’s education mantra of ‘choice and diversity’ was supposed to benefit the poor and disadvantaged, but ‘diversity’ clearly does not seem to include rural schools, locking poor children in rural areas into a cycle of deprivation.”

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