Five generations of Mary Roberts' family attended Baringhup Primary School in western Victoria. On the banks of the Loddon river, the town of just 185 people had a school for more than 150 years, before it was closed at the recommendation of the school council in 2021. The doors of Baringhup Primary School are now permanently shuttered and locals say the abandoned building is in disrepair, has been broken into and vandalised. "It is very, very disheartening, very sad to see the school go, especially when within those years that I was involved we worked so hard to build the school up," Mrs Roberts said of her two decades on the Baringhup Primary School committee. "We had a new art building all fitted out and an extra portable put in, playground equipment and all that sort of stuff. "We worked extremely hard to keep it to a really high standard for the staff and the students." Baringhup resident and teacher of more than 25 years David Anderson said the school was the hub of the community. "Lots of generations, three or four generations of the local community have been educated there and sent their kids there. So it's very special to a lot of people," he said. In the past five years, 17 schools have been closed in Victoria, including 10 schools after a period of de-staffing. A de-staffed school refers to when a school is not officially closed but has no staff assigned to it. Devenish Primary School in northern Victoria is currently de-staffed, with the closest school up to 32 kilometres away. The community is fighting to save its 147-year-old school from closure, prompting a petition and local support. The Victorian Department of Education said de-staffed schools are monitored for demand. While no NSW schools have closed in the past two years, 13 public schools have been put into recess in NSW since the beginning of 2021, most with either none or very few enrolments. These include Ulan Public School, Rukenvale Public School, Carrathool Public School and Booligal Public School. Schools are closed when enrolments drop or staff are hard to employ and small schools are sometimes merged instead. Closing small schools in regional areas when enrolment numbers dwindle affected the whole community. "The way that schools are staffed and funded are based around an economic formula model and those formulas really don't work when you get into a lot of regional areas," University of Canberra professor of rural education Philip Roberts said. "Because when schools close they say they're not viable, we'll close it. "At what point do we ask what is the economic value of maintaining that site as a centre of community that gives that community identity and value?" Students in regional, rural and remote Australia have been lagging behind their urban counterparts on almost every recognised educational measure for decades. According to the Gonski Institute for Education, regional and remote students had lower access to education services compared with those living in major cities, attended school less frequently and were less likely to enrol in a university course. Isolated Children's Parents Association Queensland branch president Louise Martin said there were impacts on towns without schools. "It's critical, obviously, to have a school within your community. If you do not have a school in your community, the community folds very quickly," she said. Ms Martin lives on a sheep and cattle property 30 kilometres from Tambo, one of the oldest towns in western Queensland. Her twin daughters are currently in boarding school for years 11 and 12 because of the absence of a nearby high school. "In rural remote Queensland there are 12 local government areas that do not have a high school and another seven that don't have senior secondary," she said. "Home and community is important to absolutely everyone. "What we need to try and halt is the defection away, so that families can stay in their communities, have their child educated in one form or another and bring that education back to our community." Advocates say teachers need to be better supported for working in regional areas. "People don't have that professional recognition that teachers are doing something different when they're working in close knit communities that are small. "They have to rely on their own resources and they have to innovate in that respect," University of Canberra's Dr Roberts said. Elmhurst, a small town in the Pyrenees region of Western Victoria, lost its primary school in early 2023 after enrolments fell to a handful. Elmhurst Development Group secretary Geoff Penna said while the community was disappointed, it had been thoroughly consulted in advance of the school's closure. IN OTHER NEWS: "There was a reluctance to the school closing but everybody acknowledged that it was going to happen anyway. "The community had to be part of making the decision and we backed the school council, which we needed to do," he said. The Victorian Department of Education said it would be opening 100 new schools by 2026, with 75 new schools opening between 2019 and 2024.