The determination of parents to take back control of their school at West Burton was very clear at Thoralby village hall on Monday May 14. They voted unanimously in favour of seeking defederation from the Bainbridge, Askrigg and West Burton Federation of Schools (BAWB) because they believed that from September this would no longer provide the best form of education especially for the youngest children enrolled at West Burton school.
The parents of 21 of the 23 children at West Burton CofE school confirmed that they preferred defederation from bussing the four to seven-year-olds from West Burton to Bainbridge each school day for lessons. The latter option was approved by the governors of BAWB on May 10 with the intention that it would begin in September.
Speaking for the parents West Witton parish councillor Dr Graham Bottley said that they believed the only route to long term stability for all three schools was for that at West Burton to de-federate. North Yorkshire County councillor John Blackie, who chaired the meeting, described it as the beginning of the campaign to save West Burton school.
“The only way we will save West Burton school and continue the wonderful educational experience that it gives is for it to defederate,” he said.
Burton cum Walden parish councillor Jane Ritchie described it as a local mini-Brexit. “You must get all the facts first before you jump – we owe that to our children,” she warned.
Cllr Bottley described how the instability about the future of the school had had a negative impact upon the children and their parents. “We want to let the governors of BAWB know that parents have had enough with the uncertainty of the past two years. We just want stability for the school,” he said.
Cllr Bottley said the bussing option would undermine the future sustainability of West Burton school. Parents did not want their young children bussed around the dales or siblings split between three schools, he explained. It was also likely that if children formed friendships at Bainbridge they would not want to return to West Burton.
He added that the instability had created a downward spiral with even less children attending West Burton school. He stated: “There won’t be a school at West Burton in two years.“If you’ve got a good stable school families will move into the area. If you’ve got stability at West Burton school it will grow. And if you’ve got stability at Bainbridge and Askrigg schools they will grow too.”
He believed all three schools would be stronger if that at West Burton defederated.
Some of the parents spoke of their frustration that they were not represented on the BAWB board of governors and that, as the budgets for the three schools had been amalgamated, they had no say in how the money was allocated.
“A positive point for defederation would be to be in control of our own budget and make decisions about what we can spend,” one parent said.
Cllr Blackie told them that they would have to make a compelling case for defederation. They also needed to set up a shadow board of governors. The latter would then form a sub-committee which would negotiate with that of BAWB.
Over eight people have said they are willing to take on what he described as the onerous task of being a member of that shadow board.
The decision to defederate or not would be made at a private meeting of the BAWB board of governors in July, Cllr Blackie said. He explained that if the BAWB governors agreed to defederation the shadow board would work alongside it for several months. He thought defederation could then be completed by January 2019.
He reported that he had been assured that if the BAWB governors agreed to de-federation that bussing the youngest children would not start in September.
Several councillors from Aysgarth and District and Burton cum Walden, agreed that the defederation of West Burton school was a better option than bussing the youngest children.
Richmondshire District councillor Yvonne Peacock was very concerned about maintaining the quality of education at West Burton school and the possibility of it being closed. She stated: “My worry is the impact upon the community.”
Cllr Bottley commented: “Losing a school has an impact on the whole village. It has an impact on the shops because you have less families and more holiday homes. You might lose the pub – everything interacts.
The schools at Bainbridge and Askrigg will remain in the federation and many of the parents at the meeting at Thoralby village hall said they hoped that the cooperation that had been built up between those and that at West Burton would continue if the latter left.
Cllr Blackie agreed that defederation didn’t need to be the end of collaboration and emphasised that as a county councillor he would work hard to ensure that all three schools remained open.