Knight jumps to defend rural schools

Councils’ alleged neglect of rural schools is to attract a rebuke from the government.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesperson said schools minister Jim Knight would reiterate the importance of rural schools to local authorities in a letter due to be sent out “in the next few days”.

The move has attracted criticism from the Liberal Democrats, who accused the government of hypocrisy. Official guidance published last month told local authorities to close smaller schools as a ‘priority’, they claim.

Children, schools and family spokesperson David Laws said: “Decisions on smaller schools should be determined by children’s needs, not by central government diktat.

“Rather than giving local authorities contradictory instructions, ministers should allow them to run their education policies in the interests of local children and with sensitivity to the needs of rural areas.”

The National Union of Teachers expressed dismay that the government was determined to avoid small class sizes.

General secretary Steve Sinnott commented: “Falling rolls should not be a threat to schools but an opportunity to increase the range of the curriculum, reduce class sizes and increase individual tuition.

“It is essential that the government develops a strategy for responding to falling rolls such that small schools do not face piecemeal and corrosive attrition.”

Mr Knight said the issue was related to changing demographics rather than funding.

“Closing schools is a drastic last resort for councils,” he said in a statement released earlier today.

“It’s unacceptable for them to propose closing popular, successful schools which parents want to send their children to, if they have not fully looked at alternative uses or consulted their communities.”