Three Shropshire village schools to merge
Three schools, all at the centre of village life, are to become one as part of a merger.
And today councillor has urged Shropshire Council to ensure the sustainability of rural communities following the decision.
The schools – Hope CE Primary School, Worthen CE Primary School and St Mary's CE Primary School in Westbury, near Shrewsbury, will be amalgamated from the forthcoming academic year.
All have their own unique identity and pride themselves on their individuality and history.
Pupils spelled out the letters of Hope School after receiving a positive Ofsted report back in 2013. At Worthen School, the youngsters love exploring the wildlife garden. And at St Mary's School, the students also help keep the gardens up together.
Shropshire Council's cabinet agreed the proposals, which will see pupils taught from an expanded site at Worthen, at its meeting on Wednesday.
Today, councillor Heather Kidd, who represents Chirbury and Worthen, said while she could understand the reasons for the merger, she wanted assurances things would be done to protect rural communities.
She said: "It is with great sadness that I realise there is no alternative to Hope School's closure.
"The lack of affordable family housing in our very rural areas is driving families away from their roots – even when they work locally or have child care locally.
"The numbers of children attending Hope School are no longer financially viable.
"The real issue now is the sustainability of Hope and Bentlawnt. This closure is the final straw for the shop and Post Office which will now close on January 4 as the daily parent trade has now ceased.
"The Post Office is trying to find alternative ways to deliver their services in this remote area which has some of the highest snowfall in Shropshire even when the rest of us have none.
"The shop was the lifeline for many when cut off.
"I would make a plea that rural communities' sustainability must now be made a priority for the council if we are to keep the rest of our village schools viable, balance the generations in the settlements, provide housing for key workers – including carers – and this will then reduce travel costs for many service areas in Shropshire Council.
"Our rural areas face a bleak future if we do not heed this."
The three schools have collectively lost 29 pupils between January 2016 and the annual school census in October 2016, down from 114 to 85.
A target date for the merger has been set as September 1, 2017.
A report to the authority said the fall in pupil numbers was in part due to the cohort sizes in the individual schools being so small, with parents citing this as their main reason for removing children.