Rural schools 'should be given protected status'
Rural schools are under threat and should be given protected status, teachers have warned.
These schools, which often have small numbers of pupils - and are often in areas that have "more cows and sheep" than people, are struggling under a squeeze on budgets, delegates at the National Education Union (NUT section) conference in Brighton have heard.
The union passed a resolution arguing that rural schools provide a vital service to their local communities.
It called on the union's executive to put pressure on the Government to "give rural schools a protected status, recognising their significance for the survival of their communities and valuing the educational offer they give to their pupils."
Delegates said they wanted to see more funding for rural schools to help protect their existence and provide a quality education for pupils.
Roland Hurrell, from Somerset, told the conference: "Somerset is a rural county, we have a small population compared to our geographical size, God knows we have more cows than people."
He added: "Seriously, small populations create bigger problems for our schools in villages and small towns. Funding is a real problem for leadership in those schools. Our schools do not get a fair deal in comparison to our compatriots in larger towns and cities across the country.
"And Somerset problems are the problems of all rural schools.
"We have a disparate population, and we suffer disproportionately. Whether it's funding, whether it's provision, recruitment, retention, etc, etc.
"There are significant differences that we suffer over and above that which other schools in more populous areas suffer."
Mr Hurrell went on to say: "Rural schools, obviously we have smaller numbers of students, often bussed in from villages around. Rural schools, from year to year, have real difficulty managing the numbers which go up and down, and flip and flop. So it's really difficult for senior managers to be able to deal with."
Rural schools have fewer staff as they have fewer pupils, but those workers "still have to do all the duties that a normal school would have to do", he said, adding: "Rural schools regularly shut, they regularly shut, which creates a massive problem for the communities which serve them."
"All across Britain, in Somerset and the South West, and the South East, the North East, the North West, Wales, all points in between, rural schools of all shapes and sizes are suffering," he said.
Anne Swift, from North Yorkshire, said she thinks her area has "got more sheep than people", adding that the Government defines small schools as having less than 200 pupils and "in many shire counties that's the majority of primary schools".
"These schools are at the heart of their communities, but they are expensive, when compared with educating pupils in larger schools," she said.
Ms Swift said that as head of a rural village school, she had worried every year about numbers of pupils, knowing the impact it would have on issues like class sizes and workload.
"The move out of area by a family with school-age children was always a disaster," she said.
"High housing costs are leading to the depopulation of rural areas, as families cannot afford to live there.
"A small reception intake has an impact for seven years, as the small cohort moves through. More and more schools are federating to avoid closure or redundancies, and although this can bring benefits in terms of sharing expertise, facilities, training and enriching the curriculum for the children, we need to consider more fully the implications for good or ill of this."
The motion said: "Rural schools are under threat. Funding based on amounts per pupil means most rural schools with small yearly cohorts struggle to afford staff and basics for education."