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Bishop calls for better rural strategy to protect rural schools from closing

by Cara Bentley

The Church of England's lead bishop for education, Stephen Conway, said there needs to be a cross-Government rural strategy, following a summit held at Lambeth Palace to look at ways to safeguard schools in the countryside. 

The event included representatives from Ofsted, the National Farmers Union, the Prince's Countryside Fund and council and education leaders from across England. 

Bishop Stephen said: "We have been reassured that the Government has a presumption against the closure of rural schools, which is a positive foundation for the future."

Last month, the Department of Education report on Running rural primary schools efficiently suggested primary schools share headteachers, acknowledging that this was difficult in some small schools where the headteachers also did a lot of teaching. 

It also reported on problems the rural schools have with funding, having mixed-aged classes and getting discounts on equipment. 

The bishop added: "We have also heard from a number of stakeholder organisations, as well as those who are working with schools and communities across the country, who are exploring innovations in collaboration and the use of new technologies to improve pupil outcomes.

"However, it is clear that these steps alone are insufficient, and an overarching rural strategy is now required for the issues facing our countryside communities to be seen together. 

"Such an approach is needed not only to give longer-term stability to our education provision, but for housing, infrastructure, broadband, agriculture, business and industry to be seen in the same lens. 

"Over the past 200 years Church of England schools have adapted to significant changes in society and we are confident they will continue as rich expressions of their communities long into the future."

Recruitment and career development is also difficult for schools far away from cities. 

Bishop Stephen concluded: "The countryside is not uniform, and requires a joined-up approach to give its communities the opportunity to thrive for generations to come. We are committed to working with the Government to achieve this."

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