Rural school faces demographic attrition

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A LOCAL rural school is facing a demographic crisis, the Times can reveal, with reduced intakes of youngsters for the 2011-2012 school year.

Ardallie Primary, which serves the area between Ellon and Hatton, will take no new Primary 1 pupils this year, down from four in 2010.

Headmistress Gaynor Steel told the Times that declining rural school rolls could be attributed to a number of factors.

“A lot of young families simply prefer staying closer to their work, either in Ellon or Aberdeen,” she said. “They also worry about childcare provision, though we do have an arrangement with a childcare provider in Ellon.

“We know of families who have school age children in the area, however they choose to send them to the Ellon primaries - maybe for a bigger social group, or because they started school there and want to stay with their friends. One problem we do have is that local estate agents advertising houses in the area always mention schooling in Ellon, which means a lot of people probably don’t even know about Ardallie.”

The 15-pupil facility, which boasts a ratio of one teacher to ten pupils, compares well to other local schools, with the last inspection in 2008 - a follow-up to an earlier HMIE report in 2006 - praising the school for its engagement with the surrounding community and extra-curricular activities.

“Problems are picked up on quicker, and fewer children mean that the teachers can develop better relationships with both pupils and parents,” said Mrs Steel.

Another rural school source told the Times that while the demographics for rural schools in Formartine were not good for 2011, historically the figures varied.

“They come in peaks and troughs,” she said. “Our own school had one new pupil last year, and four the year before. Next year, we will be receiving eight. Every rural school faces high and low points - it’s just the way rural areas are. Youngsters move away to get work, the population ages, and there aren’t as many pupils.”

Aberdeenshire Council has recently announced a new consultation on the school estate, following reports earlier this year that a number of rural primary schools were in line for closure. The consultation is likely to take place between August 29 and next Spring to gather opinions on the matter.

A spokeswoman from Aberdeenshire Council said that the population of the area was changing and that, as a result, the council was keeping the school estate under review.

She said: “The Education, Learning and Leisure Committee agreed in May to engage with parents, staff and the community on a series of proposed guidelines for any future review of schools in Aberdeenshire.

“This will proceed as planned but we would stress there is no presumption of closure for any school, nor any specific proposals for individual schools at this time.”