PLANS to close an Oxfordshire school because of 'persistently low numbers' were signed off yesterday, despite a predicted increase in pupils county-wide.

Oxfordshire County Council's cabinet passed plans to permanently close Culham Parochial CE Primary School near Abingdon, merging it with neighbouring Clifton Hampden primary.

Council papers revealed that the school, which has been temporarily shut since September, forecast a deficit of about £55,000 by the end of the budget year 2019/20.

The new report added: "The school’s pupil numbers are too low to generate sufficient funding to cover the costs of staffing and maintaining the building.

"It is still expected that the school’s deficit would be significant, and continue to grow, if it stays open.

"Closure is proposed due to persistently low pupil numbers, and the consequent impact on the financial viability of the school and the curriculum."

Read again: Council proposes CLOSING county's smallest primary school

The number of pupils on the school's roll fell to just 15 in September, making it Oxfordshire's smallest state school.

All pupils were offered places and free transport to Clifton Hampden Primary School instead, and the Culham building has been out of use.

A new pupil place plan for Oxfordshire, published ahead of another council meeting today, projects a 5.8 per cent increase in primary pupil numbers between 2018/19 and 2023/24.

It states: "Demand for reception places has been falling in most areas since 2015, but is now forecast to start rising again in areas experiencing significant housing growth.

"Planning for primary school sufficiency is now more focused on housing growth, rather than the birth rate."

South Oxfordshire District Council's emerging Local Plan, which outlines plan for future development, names Culham as one of seven key sites for new homes.

Land around Culham Science Centre is earmarked in the plan for 3,500 new homes, which would see the village's population sky-rocket from just 453 people in the 2011 Census.

Also read: Primary school unofficially shuts its doors

Despite this, council officers' report to the cabinet said: "There is currently no evidence that the local pupil population will grow, at least in the short to medium term.

"Because the birth rate has fallen in recent years, there would continue to be sufficient school places in this area.

"Housing growth in the area so far has been in the designated area of Sutton Courtenay CE Primary School, which has recently been expanded."

The council received 23 responses to an initial consultation in summer, and just four responses to an official consultation ending in October.

Of the four, three were objections, but two of those were only concerned about traffic and parking.

Officers' report said: "There is the potential for the loss of an important community facility in the village.

"However, the school site and building is owned by a charitable trust, and so the decision on whether to keep the building open to the community would be made separately to this consultation process."

Also read: The latest on South Oxfordshire Local Plan

Speaking at yesterday's cabinet meeting, council leader Ian Hudspeth said: "It doesn't seem as if the local community are objecting vociferously to [the closure]."

The school was founded in 1850 by the Church, and the building in High Street is owned by Diocesan Trustees Oxford Ltd.

It was rated 'requires improvement' in May, which has increased its vulnerability.

Of pupils on roll this year, less than half lived within the designated catchment area, instead travelling from Abingdon, Sutton Courtenay and Berinsfield, where the council said school places are available.

The report said Culham staff will be transferred to Clifton Hampden and there are 'no immediate plans for staffing changes'.

However, it said the staffing structure 'will be reviewed in future'.

Villagers saved Culham school in 2010, after closure plans were proposed, but there has been no such campaign to salvage it this time.