Farming families are concerned that the loss of their rural schools will result in children having to travel long distances each day to attend school, putting them at a disadvantage to city and town-based children.
Under the three options proposed by Northumberland County Council, pupils will travel an additional 375,000 miles each year at a minimum, according to STARS’ analysis. Under some scenarios the distances could be significantly greater.
Studies have shown that long journeys to school have a negative effect on children’s educational performance. Tiredness or an inability to participate in extracurricular activities reduce academic achievement.
Lord Curry of Kirkharle, CBE, has voiced his concern that the loss of village schools would undermine the social cohesion of rural communities.
“I was appalled at the scale of the proposed school closures being considered in the South West of our County,” he said. “Particularly when many of the schools have stable, if not growing, pupil numbers, and in the case of Chollerton an ‘Outstanding’ Ofstead report.”
“The village school is an absolutely vital element in maintaining rural communities,” he continued. “To close the school will deter families from moving into the village, ultimately undermine the viability of the other key services and impact adversely on village communities.”
“The school is where relationships are established and is the focal point of social activities. The closure of rural schools cannot be considered purely on short-term economic grounds. It’s social impact could have consequences which are far more serious and could be far more costly in the longer term,” he concluded.
Lisa Crocker from Blakelaw Farm in West Woodburn said it would take her children (ages 9 and 6) up to 40 minutes to travel to and from school by bus each day should their ‘local’ school close.
Her children currently attend West Woodburn First School, which is located 5.8 miles from the farm. The school is earmarked for closure under all three of the council’s options.
“At busy periods in the farming calendar we would have little spare time to do an hour-round trip to collect the kids from after-school clubs or extra-curricular activities,” she explained. “With no service buses coming within five miles of our farm they would have to miss out, putting them at a disadvantage to their urban peers.”
“The loss of the school to our village will have a knock-on effect to the whole of the community,” she added. “From families choosing to move nearer to the other schools, to the demise of the village shop due to a reduced footfall.”
“The closure of West Woodburn school would further isolate the people of our village. As farmers we live where we work, we can’t just move near to the amenities.”