A SMALL rural school has revealed it will have to combine classes and cut staff to cope with funding pressures.

A dip in pupil numbers has driven Wootton-by-Woodstock CE Primary School to take 'difficult decisions' to ensure its survival, which will result in a reduction in its workforce and two classes being merged into one.

The West Oxfordshire academy, which recently joined Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust, currently only teaches about 50 pupils, but has capacity for 70.

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In a letter sent to parents, seen by the Oxford Mail, chair of governors Chris Elliott said: "Finances for our school are tight as costs increasingly outweigh income.

"Funding allocations from the education authorities have not kept pace with inflation, resulting in the school being forced to make cuts in spending."

He said this is an issue schools are struggling with across the country, but it has been 'exacerbated' at Wootton-by-Woodstock due to a decline in pupil numbers.

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The letter, dated March 20, added that the school is taking action to attract more pupils.

However, it added: "In the short term, these measures combined are not significant enough to ensure we can balance our budgets."

It said the school had been dipping into its reserves pot to plug the shortages but added that 'this is not a viable solution going forward.'

Mr Elliott said governors are 'passionate' about ensuring the school's future.

He added: "We are now proposing to reduce the number of classes to reduce costs and we are in consultation with staff and unions about these changes."

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The change would mean that from September the school would operate on a 2.5 class model rather than three classes - three classes in the morning for English and maths, as is the case now.

This would reduce to two classes in the afternoon instead of three, split into a class for Key Stage 1 and another for Key Stage 2, resulting in a bigger class size in the latter.

Mr Elliott told parents: "We have thought long and hard about ensuring whatever we do has the least possible impact on education.

"Through our consultation with staff and unions, no-one has been able to come up with a better solution.

"[This] protects the teaching of our core subjects in the mornings...even in the afternoon the two classes will be divided into learning groups under the direction of two class teachers with three teaching assistants for further support.

"Our teacher to pupil ratio will still be extremely good compared to other primary schools in the area."

He admitted that the decisions being made were 'extremely difficult’, adding: "Inevitably it means a reduction in the number of teacher posts in the school. It is clearly an uncertain and unsettling time for teachers."

Last month Ofsted's report of Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust, which runs 33 schools, credited the trust's work to ensure the survival of small rural schools.

Its chief executive Anne Davey said: "We are proud of Wootton-by-Woodstock CE Primary School, which has been classed as ‘good’ by Ofsted and ‘outstanding’ by SIAMS – the Church of England’s own schools’ inspectorate.

"Wootton is a small, vibrant community and the village church and Church school are both at the heart of that community.

"We have had to make difficult, but we believe wise, decisions, to ensure the school remains financially viable.

"The school receives excellent financial support from the Friends of Wootton School, and a local trust, the Parrott and Lee Foundation, as well as ODST itself, but the reality is that pupil numbers have dropped and we must reduce expenditure.

"The teacher-to-pupil ratios, however, will remain extremely favourable compared to other primary schools in the area.

"ODST and the staff and governors of the school are all committed to ensuring the school flourishes in the long term."