Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mowsley: Death of a village primary school

In 2007 the Ofsted inspectors visited Mowsley St Nicholas C of E Primary School in Leicestershire:
Pupils' personal development and well-being are good. They behave well and have excellent relationships with each other and with adults. Pupils feel very happy and safe because, as they say, 'the school's really nice and small and we're well looked after.' 
The pastoral care of pupils is very good. Parents really value this because they believe it really benefits their children's academic and personal development. The comment made by one that 'Mowsley is a small school with a big heart' was supported by many others in writing to the inspector.
Three years later the school made the national press for what must surely be the only time in its history. The Independent wrote:
While most schools are bustling with children back after the summer break, one has had to close its doors after no pupils turned up on the first day of term. 
Governors at Mowsley St Nicholas CE Primary School in Mowsley, near Lutterworth, Leicestershire, are now consulting on its future after watching its roll drop to nothing. 
Last year 38 pupils were on the roll, but this year education bosses were unsure how many would turn up and today Leicestershire County Council confirmed it is now temporarily closed ... 
Chair of Governors Kim Hall said: "At the moment it's still officially open but it's not got any pupils in so it's not actually open." 
She said a dropping roll had a "snowball" effect as more parents moved their children away from the dwindling numbers. 
"I think a lot of parents decided one child was moving on so they would move their other child," she said. "Once numbers dip below a certain point, and children's friends leave, their parents think they'll move them to be with their friends.
I have heard of this sort of effect elsewhere in the country. Many middle-class parents are happy to use the state system while their children are of primary age, even if they have ambitions to educate them privately when they are older. But once a few families decide to take children out of a village primary and send them to private school in the nearest town or city, then the writing can be on the wall. More families will follow suit and a school can soon find itself left with the poor and immobile.

And when a school is as small as Mowsley, it can close altogether.

Mowsley still has a pub, even if it is now devoted more to food than beer. But there are no shops and the two chapels have long since become private houses, leaving the church, as in so many other villages, as almost the only public building.

The school used to be housed in a tiny red-brick building near the church, with the older children enjoying the doubtful privilege of being taught in the village hall. But somehow this gate into what used to be the school playing field, some way from the school building, was more moving.

When I am out with my mother she always comments on how quiet village are these days. And Mowsley's experiene reminds me of this passage from Byron Rogers' The Green Road to Nowhere:
Mr Reggie Chapman, eighty-seven, said it was the quiet, which in his old age had settled on the village like snow. 
Poets burble about a lost peace, but not countrymen. Mr Chapman, a silvery, whispering gentleman, very bent ("like Nebuchadnezzar, I am almost down to the grass"), remembers the hullabaloo of his youth in Abthorpe, near Towcester: the church bells, the school bell, the sound of children playing and cows being driven back into the village at night. He has seen them all go. 
The last vicar went in in 1943 (on the advice of the diocesan lawyer, who thought a new vicarage roof would be too expensive). The school closed in 1959; the main employer, a shoe factory, had closed in 1936; and one by one, the farmhouses slipped into the excited prose of estate agents ("genuine period, scope for conversion...")

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