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Welcome to the schools organisation committee of North Yorkshire CC. Anyone who thinks local government in England ...
Welcome to the schools organisation committee of North Yorkshire CC. Anyone who thinks local government in England lacks the picturesque quality of its French counterpart has clearly missed this committee. It was invented (yes, it didn't just happen, someone actually invented it) in the 1998 Standards & Framework Act.

The schools organisation committee has the last word on proposals to open, close, enlarge and generally change the character of schools. It has a structure of gothic complexity combined with procedures which make the election of a new pope look like a model of transparency.

It comprises five blocs - or sub-committees - each of which can have up to seven members. These groups hear the arguments for and against and then vote internally to decide the single vote which each group will cast to arrive at the final verdict.

These mini colleges of cardinals in North Yorkshire comprise the local authority bloc of councillors; the schools bloc of governors; a catholic bloc; an Anglican bloc; and a Learning & Skills Council bloc.

Let us leave that wonderful construction on one side for a moment and head off into the Yorkshire countryside, to the delightful village of Langcliffe just over a mile outside the market town of Settle which has a new, 150 pupil-strong primary school.

Back in 1998-1999 Langcliffe's own school had 49 children on its roll. By 2000 the numbers had sunk to 33. Three years later the figure was 17. The current number is 10.

The county initiated procedures to close the school, arguing it could not justify spending a five-figure sum per pupil to keep Langcliffe open. In any case, it argued, it was already very generous in maintaining small rural schools, setting a lower limit of just 20 for viability.

And so the issue arrived before the schools organisation committee. The tension was palpable.

The Learning & Skills Council bloc did not turn up - its interest is in secondary not primary schools. The Catholic bloc did not turn up. Only one person came from the Anglican bloc and declared she felt unable to vote. The schools bloc turned out in full strength, but one member declared that he had already made up his mind and the rest voted three all so it could not contribute a vote.

So it all boiled down to the council bloc. The two Liberal Democrats and the Labour member voted to keep the school open. Two Tories voted for closure, one voted to keep Langcliffe open and the fourth failed to show. At least this led to a result.

The result is that Langcliffe will remain open. Present estimates are that it will struggle to reach double figures in enrolment and perhaps manage as few as seven. The county will spend about£13,000 on each

of them. The council may only keep the school open if there is a chance of a return to financial viability. Something that looks like an extremely long shot.

I wish the school well. I wish I could believe that this is more than an expensive postponement of the inevitable.

But students of bureaucratic flora and fauna should take note: these committees are about to be abolished in the Education & Inspections Bill currently before Parliament. And not a nanosecond too soon. There had to be something in this wretched little bill to give me a reason to support the government.

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