Campaigners protest plans to close village school in Durham

Plans to close a village school would destroy a community, campaigners have warned Durham County Council (DCC).

Protestors were outside Durham County Hall today (Wednesday) (April 18) to show their support for the Sherburn Primary School’s Sherburn Hill site, in Front Street.

And as well as their fears for the future of the village, the Sherburn Hill Community Action Group is concerned about parents being hit in the pocket if the decision is approved.

“It’s going to have a massive effect on the village, people will stop moving to Sherburn Hill because there’s nothing there,” said Alison Curtis, 52, a former pupil whose granddaughter also attends the school.

“It will be a massive financial pressure on the families – it will cost over £1,000 a year for one parent to take one child to the nearest primary school.

“They’re not closing a school, they’re destroying a community.”

DCC ran a public consultation in January and February on the proposal, which it says will ‘make [Sherburn Primary School] sustainable and viable for the long term’.

Sherburn Village and Sherburn Hill Primary Schools were combined in September 2015, but since then pupil numbers have been lower than expected.

Across its two sites in Sherburn Hill and Sherburn Village, in Cookshold Lane, the school has capacity for 315 children, but currently has just 166.

According to the council, most who responded to its survey opposed the plans and were concerned about school transport and loss of community facilities.

In a statement, Phil Hodgson, DCC’s head of education, said: “Through both a six week public consultation in January and February, and a four week period for further feedback in March and April, opportunity has been offered to comment on the proposal to close the Sherburn Hill site of Sherburn Primary School on 31 August 2018.

“All of the responses received will be reviewed and Cabinet will in May decide whether to move to the next stage in the process.”

However, Durham MP Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods has criticised the council’s decision and promised to lobby the government on behalf of parents.

She said: “Having met with local residents a number of times, I am well aware of the level of anger and distress this proposed closure has caused for children and families in Sherburn Hill, and I am very disappointed that the local authority has issued a notice to close the school.

“The loss of the school will have a huge impact on the community, and will completely remove education provision from Sherburn Hill.

“Young children will have to travel to another village to go to school, and it is clear that parents and families in Sherburn Hill not only value the school, but have serious concerns about getting their children to school if this site closes.

“Given that Sherburn Hill School also serves a number of small villages in the area, the loss of this school will be felt in a number of communities.

“I have also written to the Secretary of State for Education to ask what the Government intends to do to support communities such as Sherburn Hill.

“Sherburn Hill is a rural school, but is not treated as such under the Government’s funding formula for schools.

“Sadly, the new funding formula also means that many schools in the region are facing a real terms cut in funding per pupil, which will impact significantly on their budgets.

“I continue to support the residents of Sherburn Hill in their campaign to save the school, and will keep pressing the Government to do more to support schools in the area.”

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service