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Holiday homes could close primary school

Monday, 13 May 2024 08:29

By Bradley Gerrard, local democracy reporter

Image: Google Images

Pupil numbers plummet in Kingswear

The closure of a Devon village school that eventually had no pupils attending has been blamed on the large number of holiday homes.

Kingswear Primary School is now facing closure due to the substantial drop in pupil numbers, and a key reason behind this has been laid at the door of the significant number of holiday lets and second homes in the community.

The school had 66 pupils on roll in 2017, and discussions were taking place around that time to try to find space for an extra classroom.

However, in the 2022/23 academic year, there were just 13 children on roll, five of whom were in their final year of primary school and set to move to secondary school.

By last September, there were no children on roll, the council said, and no preferences for admission to reception for this September had been made.

Councillor Jonathan Hawkins (Conservative, Dartmouth & Marldon) said it was a “very sad day for my community”.

“This closure is due, I believe, to the village being a very beautiful place to live, an expensive place to live, and as such we have a lot of second homes and holiday lets, and I believe that is why this school is closing,” he said.

“We have terraces of houses, as does Dartmouth across the river, where only one or two residents live in them full time.

“This is a problem for all towns and villages, communities like ours, and hopefully we can find a way to prevent holiday lets and second homes for small communities, as we need families to live in our village.”

Cllr Hawkins added that Kingswear was particularly constrained in terms of sites which could be developed for housing and therefore boost the population.

The biggest development at Noss on Dart Marina will accommodate 126 homes, but is over 1.5 miles from the village and the application does not propose any affordable housing.

Cllr Hawkins said he felt he and the community had “done all we possibly can” to keep the school open, but there was simply not the attendance to keep it going.

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter (Conservative, Wearside and Topsham), the cabinet member for children’s services and schools, said it was “always sad when you have to discuss closing a school”.

“But there is no point in keeping it open if there are no children there,” he said.

“We have worked hard, ably assisted by Cllr Hawkins, to find a workable solution, but we are left in the unenviable position with a school with no children, and parents seeking not to send their children there due to a lack of numbers.”

Because the school is overseen by Education South West multi-academy trust, the decision to close the school actually lies with the Secretary of State for Education.

Devon County Council, as the education authority, is consulted as part of the process, but does not have the power to prevent its closure because ity does not oversee the school. It has been asked in this instance to agree the closure, though, as Kingswear is classified as a rural academy school, prior to the Secretary of State making a final decision.

However, in Kingswear’s case Devon would probably have been unlikely to lobby to keep it open given that a rebound in pupil numbers does not look likely any time soon.

A report prepared for councillors revealed that “very few children” live in Kingswear itself, and that local health data showed “low future cohorts of pre-school aged children” living in the village too.

Just five children would be due for admission in September (albeit no applications had been made to attend), while four children would be expected to join in September next year, just three in 2026 and five in September 2027.

The report noted that there had been objections to the closure from members of the community, though, with uncertainty over the school’s future and communications from the trust “leading to parents withdrawing their children from school” cited as issues.

It added that objectors felt the academy’s decision to close the pre-school also affected pupil numbers, and that local parents had now started a playgroup with good attendance.

As part of the consultation, the trust said it had “invested heavily in marketing efforts beyond the Kingswear catchment area”, but with little success.

Devon said it would provide primary-age children living in the Kingswear Primary School area with free school transport to Dartmouth Academy, which involves a ferry crossing across the River Dart. It estimated this could cost “in the region” of £250 per day for a 16-seater minibus to cross the river.

The minister and churchwardens of Kingswear are understood to hold the freehold for the school site, meaning Devon County Council does not have a say in its future use.

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