Last week, Shropshire announced plans to shut 22 rural schools and merge a further 16 on financial grounds.

Education Correspondent Shahid Naqvi visited one closure-threatened school in the county to gauge local reaction.


The answer was spontaneous, cool and determined, delivered as one by the gathered group.

The question to residents of a Shropshire village a day after being told their school faced closure was what happens next?

"We fight."

Earlier that morning I had driven 50 miles or so out of Birmingham to Myddle, about seven miles to the north of Shrewsbury. The purpose was to visit Myddle CofE Primary School and gauge reaction to the bombshell news of the proposed closures.

Entering the school I was immediately confronted by the youngsters, desperate to show me the posters they had made.

Their colourful creations included statements like: "Don't be a fool, save our school"; "a village would not be a village without our school"; "Myddle is the only close school we can get to" and "our family have been to this school, it's been here a long time, there is no other school around, so please save our school".

Linda Jeffery, headteacher of Myddle, said: "I walked into school this morning and I had a tear.

"The children were in their classrooms making posters. One girl has written to a Member of Parliament. I said 'what are you doing?' They said 'we are campaigning. We don't want our school to close'.

"It was heart-rending to see that."

Ms Jeffery has spent the last 11 years at the school which it is true to say has a distinctly family atmosphere. A giant rabbit named Flopsy is allowed to roam free inside and its 66 pupils seem happy and confident.

"I could have applied for bigger schools but I decided I like the village school and the village way of working," said Ms Jeffery.

"It is part of the community and a centre for people to meet. I decided I would spend my end of teaching years here."

That, however, now seems unlikely. Myddle is one of 22 primary schools in Shropshire recommended for closure. The county council says the "reorganisation" plus a further 16 mergers is necessary to "address the critical drop in pupil numbers".

Unsurprisingly, the villagers disagree and a group of about 25 or so gathered in the school hall were eager to say exactly how they felt.

Bob Jeffrey, deputy chairman of Myddle's governing body, said: "The reason for closure so far has only been shown to be economic.

"On behalf of the governors we will be questioning seriously the basis for closure. Should it be made purely on economic grounds? It is the heart of the village and without it a lot of things will wither and die away.

"There is a housing strategy which says we must back the growth of local rural villages. In that sense it is time the Government put its money where its mouth is. The question is have they taken enough account of particularly young children who feel very comfortable in an environment where they can walk to school, rather than being part of some economic equation where they are put on a bus and go to some other environment which is strange to them?"

The closure threat at Myddle is part of bigger national trend which many fear will destroy rural communities.

According to the National Association for Small Schools, more than a dozen counties are currently involved in closing between 100 and 300 schools between them.

As well as Shropshire, Herefordshire recently tabled an even more radical plan to close or merge 37 out of its 81 primaries.

The NASS warns of an "infectious official line spreading across the UK" encouraging councils to close small schools.

At the heart of this is the way schools are funded per pupil, which means it can become financially non-viable for a very small school to offer a full curriculum.

The Department for Communities, Schools and Families maintains "decisions on changes to local school provision and organisation are made locally and ministers have no role in the process".

But it is difficult not to have some sympathy for authorities such as Shropshire. The schools threatened with closure all have less than 90 pupils. One has only 31 pupils. In many cases, more than half of the youngsters travel from beyond the village they are located in anyway.

The county already spends £10 million a year on school transport and complains it is unfairly funded compared with urban authorities such as Birmingham.

It has 141 primary schools serving a population of 283,000 - a ratio more than three times higher than Birmingham's 311 primaries serving a population of about one million.

But to villagers of Myddle such as Donna Elliot, whose six-year-old girl attends the Myddle Primary, the politics is irrelevant.

"I feel devastated at the thought of the closure," she said.

"The local area needs a community school. I don't want it to change. I only have to walk to school and I think that is really important."

Carol Deacon, another Myddle resident, said: "I haven't got a child at the school but it is a potential. We recently moved into the area and one of the reasons we settled here was we thought we had a village school you could walk your children to.

"It is part of village life. I wouldn't be happy with a child of five having to go on a bus. If there isn't a bus put on that means you are going to have 60 to 70 parents driving. The carbon footprint the Government likes to go on about so much is going to be increased."

Liz Reece, who has two children at Myddle School, added: "We moved to Myddle five years ago. When we came here, for the first year we only knew a few people.

"It was through the school that we got to know the community. There is a village hall and a lot of things happen there because of the school. The community comes together for the Christmas fayre, the village fete is partly held on the school ground."

John Rouse, chairman of the village hall committee, believes loss of the school could destroy the atmosphere of the village.

"We have three things going for us in terms of community spirit - the village hall, the church and the school.

"Take away the school and the community cohesion of the village is going to be diluted more. We are going to become a ghost village."

What makes plans to close Myddle School seem more bizarre to many villagers is the fact that about 40 new homes, many of them family style, are currently being built in the locality.

"We have the had the largest development in the village since the post-war years," added Mr Rouse.

Nor does the authority appear to have taken into account the £65,000 spent at Myddle School in the last year on a computer suite, its relatively new hall and a planned children's garden.

Perhaps saddest all, however, is the testimony of 73-year-old Dilis Price, a former pupil of Myddle whose nine children, 26 grandchildren and some of her 23 great-grandchildren have all passed through its gates.

"I have very good memories of my school-days," she said. "There is a real history there. It is very sad and I hope it never happens."

Whether it does or not, remains to be seen. A public consultation will now follow before any action is taken.

Based on the strength of feeling experienced on this visit, the villagers are clearly prepared to fight for their school and one even talked about appealing to the Court of Human Rights.

Amid the gloom, there is one glimmer of hope. Across the border in neighbouring Herefordshire, local politicians recently recalled the authority's school closure plan for further consideration.

In Myddle, a cacophony of happy children at playtime gives rise to hope that this is a sound that won't soon be silenced.