DfE Statement (responding to NASS?)
The Designation of Rural Primary Schools (England) 2014 Order came into force on 1 October 2014. Decision makers should refer to the list to confirm that a primary school is a rural school when making proposals for its closure. This document gives the latest list of designated rural schools in England.
The website provides a link to the list. The list, broken down into categories covering villages, hamlets and those on the urban fringe, the vital role these schools can play in serving their communities. Staffordshire has 97, including 16 Moorlands primaries. Even Newcastle district has 10, while East Cheshire has 38. A clear list leaves Councils in no doubt.The DfE says rural status is not 100% protection but decision makers need to take a school's rural designation into account.
Statutory Guidance on closure has in its more recent forms included particular provisions to be followed, at times real statutory duties, when a closure proposal involves a rural school. We have several times found Councils trying to close schools offering rather loose definitions of rurality- it seemed so when Cumbria chose to offer the sparsity grant only to schools three miles from another- not the DfE two miles.
NASS advised the DfE and Ministers that such seeming licence would encourage Councils to claim a given school was not rural- perhaps if the urban sprawl was creeping towards its historical boundary. We advised DfE officers that in response to powerful Scottish legislation insisting on fair process and transparency in closure procedures Scottish Councils had tried to have new definitions of rurality set to take those schools out of the protection of the 2010 Bill. We could see English Councils following such example! NASS can feel very pleased that we raised this issue. Under sparsity terms even the DfE 2 miles was "as the crow flies." As one very rural Lake District school Headteacher pointed out there was a rather high hill between him and the nearest other school which birds could fly over but not vehicles, nor feet twice daily! By road it was much further. In Swindon only two schools qualified so the Council decided not to pay it.