200 rural schools to close by 2014

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The Independent Online

Rural primary schools are closing at the highest rate in years because families are having to move away to find affordable housing, a report says.

The village school is the heart of the community for many families and experts say they offer one of the most effective educational models but they are dying off at a rate of one a month – more than 200 face closure by 2014.

The report says a lack of affordable housing in rural communities is forcing villagers to move to urban areas and is depriving schools of pupils.

Between 2004 and 2008, 62 rural primary schools were closed, the highest level of closure since the 1990s, claims the report by the National Housing Federation, the National Association for Small Schools and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. But in 2001, only one such school closed.

The report's authors claim that local authorities are ignoring an edict made by ministers in 1998 which urged them to presume when making decisions that rural schools should stay open.

Mervyn Benford, from the small schools association, said: "Wholesale closures, banned by the Government 10 years ago, have returned to haunt the rural education landscape."

The housing federation said authorities needed to address the housing needs of communities and ensure villages were sustainable. "We've already seen village shops and pubs close in record numbers and, if the schools close too, community life in many rural areas will be wiped out," said the federation's director, Ruth Davison.

She said that the number of people waiting for affordable homes in rural communities had risen to 750,000.