St Hilda's school in Whitby to begin consultation over closure due to falling pupil numbers and financial pressures

Governors of St Hilda’s Catholic Primary School in Whitby have announced plans to enter a period of consultation as they seek to close the school.

By Martina Moscariello
Thursday, 9th January 2020, 9:48 am
Updated Thursday, 9th January 2020, 9:50 am
St Hilda's school in Whitby could close.
St Hilda's school in Whitby could close.

In a letter to parents and carers, chair of governors Alison Hodgson expressed her “deep sadness and personal regret” over the decision, which has been made due to continued falling numbers, especially of Catholic pupils, and ongoing financial challenges.

St Hilda’s, a voluntary aided school run by the Diocese of Middlesbrough, has 24 pupils, only four of whom are Catholic.

“I understand this is devastating news for everyone who works in, attends and supports our amazing school and may bring great anxiety and uncertainty for our children, staff and you as parents and carers,” wrote Mrs Hodgson.

“The governing body has for some time been trying to address the falling roll position at the school. The school was originally built for 105 pupils. In 2019, we reduced our overall capacity to accommodate 74 pupils and a new on-site private nursery. This allowed us to continue to operate a viable, exciting and appropriate curriculum offer for all pupils.

“At present we have 24 pupils on roll and with 9 scheduled to move into secondary school in the summer. The potential number of pupils hoping to join in September is 7. As governors, we feel we have reached a position where it isn’t feasible for us to continue providing Catholic education at St Hilda’s.”

Whitby as a whole has a surplus of more than 300 primary school places. There are now just four Catholic children at St Hilda’s and none in the lower year groups.

This year the governors asked the local authority for permission to set a deficit budget, enabling the school to spend more than it brings in.

The authority can only do this where there is clear evidence the school can recover its financial position within three years. The financial situation is forecast to deteriorate further despite projected increasing numbers from 2022.

The Diocese of Middlesbrough’s director of schools, Kevin Duffy, said the decision to enter into consultation over closing the school had been taken reluctantly after exploring all available options.

“With deep regret, it is the view of the Diocese of Middlesbrough that there is no evidence to support the continuation of Catholic education in Whitby, as there appear to be no Catholic children seeking to attend the school,” he added.

The request for a formal consultation process will be considered by North Yorkshire County Council next month. If approved the subsequent process will include a public meeting for all stakeholders. If the closure goes ahead, it is likely to come at the end of this academic year.

If necessary, the diocese would offer places in an alternative Catholic school for parents and carers who wish their child to continue to receive a Catholic education.

North Yorkshire County Council would also offer support in securing alternative places.

Parents and carers have been given a short Q&A sheet to help with their immediate queries and the school is also offering one-to-one meetings on Friday (January 10).

Appointments can be arranged by contacting the school on 01947 603901.