I was headteacher at Horton-in-Ribblesdale CE Primary School until four years ago, and am deeply saddened to read of the strong possibility that the school may be closing early next year.
Horton-in-Ribblesdale is well known for being at the heart of the Three Peaks, for its position on the Settle-Carlisle line and for its continuing farming and quarrying heritage. But it is so much more than a picturesque village with a small population.
My mother was born in Selside which, in those days, had its own school: it closed. She attended Helwith Bridge School: it closed. Stainforth and Langcliffe Primary Schools followed: they closed. Throughout all those changes and increasing difficulties for the small rural communities served by those schools Horton-in-Ribblesdale provided education for Ribblesdale’s children. The school has continued to provide wonderful opportunities for children to thrive and to develop their talents in an environment that reflects their community. It is both outward looking and inwardly nurturing of dales values. Nine years ago Ofsted inspected that school and found it to be ‘Outstanding’: this verdict was repeated six years ago when Ofsted described the school as “an exhilarating place”. Over the past four years I have received the school’s newsletter every week and I have no doubt that its provision continues to be both exceptional and innovative.
So how is it possible that this excellent school is at risk of closure? The explanation appears to be that there are no longer enough children to ensure that the school is sustainable. But a simple answer can hide a more complex reality. It is no fault of the school that its numbers have dwindled: it’s not as if Horton and district parents are choosing to send their children elsewhere - there are no children in the catchment area at present other than those already attending the school.
Horton-in-Ribblesdale once had eight shops, and it now has just one. The last ‘corner’ shop, selling bread, milk and other essentials, closed five years ago. This decline in sustainable businesses reflects the country’s economic situation, with tradespeople, craftspeople and other employers leaving the dales for towns such as Settle and Skipton. Despite these changes, a vibrant community remains in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, where dales people look after each other, they nurture and support each other with understanding of each other’s backgrounds, needs and aspirations.
In last week’s edition, parent Rachel Wilson referred to the school as a place where the community gathers. This fact cannot be understated: people gather at the school knowing that it is the last focal point of their dale, it is where they have reassurance that the dale can survive and that their children can receive a high class education that will also enable future Ribblesdale communities to thrive. For example, the school happily provides unique lunch clubs for older people who wouldn’t otherwise have such an opportunity to meet each other as well as young people. The children are creatively involved in the life of the village church, bringing their youthful dales upbringing into an ageing community. Horton-in-Ribblesdale Show and the school have a unique partnership, and without the school the show’s decline would represent another nail in the coffin of the community’s cohesion. Lose the school and so much more will be lost for ever; Horton-in-Ribblesdale as a ghost town without a coherent community is unthinkable.
Is there a way of keeping the school open? I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I feel most deeply that all creative possibilities to maintain the school must be explored not only for the sake of the children presently attending Horton School but for the future and well-being of the wider community in Ribblesdale.
Former headteacher, Horton-in-Ribblesdale Primary School
Moorview Way, Skipton,