CHALLENGES facing schools in North Yorkshire are to be the latest focus for North Yorkshire’s independent Rural Commission.

Following evidence-gathering sessions on food, farming and the environment; jobs and the economy; and housing, the eight commissioners will sit this month to hear from individuals and organisations on the challenges and opportunities surrounding schools and education in the county.

Supported by the County Council, the commission consists of experts in rural economics, policy, community-led ventures, agriculture and the environment, business and media.

The chairman of the Rural Commission, the Very Reverend John Dobson DL, Dean of Ripon, said: “Village schools play a crucial role in the life of their communities. Funding is tied to pupil numbers, so falling rolls because of changing demography in rural areas, due partly to a lack of affordable housing for young families and suitable rural employment, means small schools face a very tough financial situation.

“The Commission will want to understand the challenges and the issues that contribute to them, as well as building a picture of what people think good education looks like.”

In North Yorkshire, a large proportion of school provision is in rural settings and the county has the highest number of small schools in England.

They face the risk of falling school rolls and financial difficulty. The level of deficit among schools in North Yorkshire is high and increasing. The County Council has lobbied national government for better funding for the county’s schools. North Yorkshire is ranked 129th out of 149 local authorities for secondary school allocation and the lump sum for rural schools has halved.

Countywide, school places in urban areas are projected to rise alongside a decline in rural areas. The average number on roll in local authority-maintained primary school is 128, but 99 have fewer than 80 pupils and 51 have fewer than 50 pupils.

The Commission is also interested in access to opportunities for young people, for example access to public transport to travel to further education.

Dean John said: “A lack of access to opportunities for young people is a significant issue when we consider the age demographic of our rural areas and the need to retain young people.”

He added: “Again, I thank everyone who has so far sent us evidence and presented to the commissioners. I hope more will take this opportunity to help us to support our county’s most rural communities.”

Eighty five per cent of North Yorkshire is classed as ‘super-sparse’ or very rural. The county’s population density is five times below the national average, with just 76 people per square mile compared to 430, which is the English average.

North Yorkshire has more rural schools than anywhere else in England and continues to fight for a fairer funding formula, but despite those efforts eight schools have closed in the last three years and many more have significant budget pressures.

Affordable rural housing is very limited. Farmers in particular face tough times ahead.

The Rural Commission’s challenge is to examine these issues in a new and innovative way and seek workable solutions to halt and reverse rural decline.

The purpose and aims of the Rural Commission are to recommend the actions that local partners should take over the next 10, 20 and 30 years and improve the evidence base and arguments that will enable local partners to make the case successfully for increased government support.

At the meeting commissioners will hear some evidence in person, but will also examine submissions made via email to

More information on the best way to submit evidence can be found at: