School lives on without pupils

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Staff will continue to be paid at village primary until the council can rubberstamp its closure plan. Graeme Paton reports.

Bampton Endowed primary looks the same as any other school. Like thousands across the country, it opened its doors at the start of the academic year, retaining its place at the heart of a tiny village community in Cumbria.

But this September, Bampton is just missing one thing - pupils.

The school, which first opened in a village just outside Penrith, in 1883, is deserted, except for a headteacher and her five staff. It is thought the local council is paying as much as pound;20,000 to keep the "ghost" school open until at least the end of the term.

Margaret Pearson, the head, who has been at Bampton for 35 years, said:

"The first day of term was terrible. The other teacher and I sat for a while and tried to take it all in - it was so quiet."

The situation arose when Cumbria council revealed earlier this year that it wanted to close the school, one of 15 being shut in the county as part of a purge on empty desks.

Numbers had been dropping for some time. The roll fell from 31 in 1999 to 21 when Ofsted visited in June 2004, so when parents learned that its future was under threat, the majority of remaining pupils were withdrawn.

This September, just three children were registered to attend, so the council decided to move them all on.

"When consultation over the future of the school began, a lot of parents decided it was inevitable it would close, so they voted with their feet," said a council spokesman.

"Only three children would have started this year so we have found them an alternative school. It would have been unviable and unfair to those children to leave them there."

But the council, which originally wanted to shut Bampton next summer, says it has a legal duty to allow it to remain open, pending the outcome of an official consultation. It must continue to pay the head, one part-time teacher, a secretary, a cleaner, a midday supervisor and classroom assistant until at least December when the local school organisation committee will meet to rubberstamp its closure, six months ahead of the original schedule.

Mrs Pearson said: "We have the school to clear out and we are in every day, sorting things and looking at how some of our resources can be used to help other schools.

"At the beginning of October we are having a celebration to mark the life of the school and we are also putting some work in towards that."

The council said: "The school is technically open and the head and a part-time teacher are there dealing with the winding up of the school, handling administration. It continues to get a budget of sorts, but that only really covers their wages - we have taken the per-pupil funding it would have received this year."

School with no teachers,Friday MAGAZINE 18

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