The Guardian

How villagers saved their tiny Cornish school – by paying a second teacher

Anna Fazackerley

Lerryn Church of England Primary School, near Lostwithiel in Cornwall, was told by its academy trust at the end of the last academic year that lack of funding would mean they had to scale down to only one class. This would have left one teacher juggling the education of children from reception age up to year 6.

This could have been the end of the story – another struggling school left to manage with depleted resources. Instead, residents of this tiny Cornish village have raised more than £30,000 to hire a second teacher and keep their school open.

The people of Lerryn, which is famous among holidaymakers for its large stepping stones across the River Fowey, clubbed together to fight the change after an emergency village meeting in July.

They raised enough money to hire Miss Banner, who has just finished her teacher training, for one year, and are now starting again to pay her salary for next year, after which they hope the school will have enough pupils to be sustainable.

The school, which was rated “good” by Ofsted last month, currently only has 17 pupils but is holding open days to drive up numbers.

Lerryn’s headteacher, Robyn Riggs, describes the school, where pupils spend a lot of time outdoors “scrambling in the river”, canoeing, mountain biking and exploring the local woods, as “the absolute heart of the community”.

She told the Observer: “People are sad when they lose the village pub, but right across the country, villages are losing primary schools that really matter to their communities because there just isn’t enough funding to support really small schools with few children.”

Katrine Musgrave, who is chair of the Lerryn School Association and whose daughters go to the school, said: “We felt it would be a selffulfi prophecy, with fewer parents choosing the school if we had only one teacher.”

She added: “People approached me saying: ‘I’ve been in the village for 30 years and my children went to the school, and it means so much to me that we keep it going.’”

The government allocates school funding on a per-pupil basis, which means that many small village schools are struggling to stay afloat.

Tanya Ovenden-Hope, dean and professor of education at Plymouth Marjon University, who researches small schools, said that between 1980 and 2018 the number of small primary schools in England halved from 11,464 to 5,406. Since the end of 2019, more than 70 small primaries have closed.

She said: “Small schools in these rural and sparsely populated areas tend to be the lifeline of the community. Once they are gone, along with the pub, everything becomes more challenging.”

Neil Short, chair of the National Association of Small Schools, said: “A lot of small schools are struggling financially and rely on their parent body for even the barest necessities.”

He praised the Lerryn community for championing their school, but added: “This is a fairly privileged village, with a lot of second homes. Many others would be much less able to raise this sort of money.”

‘There just isn’t enough funding to support really small schools with few children’ Robyn Riggs, headteacher