Ebrington Closure 10

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The evidence shows that a single most important ingredient in the success of individual schools and groups of schools is the effectiveness of the headteacher. The size of the school or the age range of the classes was shown to have no discernible impact upon the effectiveness of the schools. OFSTED described such successful headteachers in the following terms:
i. excellent leadership of the headteacher, supporting leadership in other small rural schools;
ii. outstanding headteacher- ... a highly successful Federation ..sharing expertise ... focusing on using the best national practice to drive improvement;
iii. the headteacher has tenaciously brought about improvements;
iv. .... inspirational headteacher.

The analysis of national data by the Review Team also considered schools in Northumberland. A most telling example of the impact of the headteacher as the determining factor in the effectiveness of a school and the irrelevance of the number of pupils on roll or class organisation is well made in the case of one small Northumberland school.

OFSTED inspected one small school in Northumberland with 8 pupils on roll. This school was judged outstanding. The findings are most compelling. OFSTED states:
i. Excellent leadership and management are a result of the headteacher’s clear and determined vision for a school that is continually improving;
ii. The excellent curriculum is a great vehicle for motivating pupils’ learning;
iii. Pupils of all ages are fired with enthusiasm for learning...[this] accelerates their rate of learning to their own best rate, which can be excellent. [Emphasis added]

The total body of evidence amassed by the Review Team shows:
There is no evidence from OFSTED, DfE, Local Authority Data, independent research and interviews to support the statement by the Governing Body at its meeting on 21st October, 2015, in reference to mixed-year teaching in small schools, when it concludes:
This is not good educationally for the pupils, and is extremely difficult for teachers.
(Full GB meeting, 21.10.15)

Neither could credible evidence be found that supported the statement:
Demands of the New National Curriculum - it is increasingly difficult to meet high standards of education in mixed year group classes, especially where these mixes span three year groups or span key stages.
(Governing Body, September 2015)
It is unclear on what professional advice the Governing Body based these assertions.
Additionally, it is inconceivable that a Government would introduce a National Curriculum that could only be taught effectively by primary schools with single age classes.

The Review Team asked the Secretary of State for Education to clarify whether the new National Curriculum can be taught in primary schools to mixed-age classes. The Schools Minister’s response states:
Schools can choose to teach pupils of different year groups together.
Maintained schools are required to cover the whole of the programme of study for each national curriculum subject by the time pupils reach the end of the key stage period. In planning how best to teach the curriculum, schools should consider all relevant circumstances, including the needs of their pupils, and make decisions accordingly.

The programmes of study for primary English, mathematics and science are set out on a year-by-year basis to provide a guide as to the pace that the material should be taught in these key subjects.

The national curriculum focuses on the essential knowledge that must be taught, allowing teachers to take greater control over the wider curriculum in schools and how it is taught. Teachers are free to use their professional judgement and take account of local circumstances in deciding how best to organise their classes, including whether it would be suitable to teach mixed age pupils together. The Department has no involvement in these decisions. (Schools Minister Nick Gibb, 2016)

The Minister's reply points out that there is no requirement to teach in single-age classes merely that the programme of study must be covered by the end of the key stage. Setting out English, mathematics and science on a year by year basis was introduced to provide a guide to the pace at which the material should be taught.

The very large evidence base submitted by IPs challenges the assertions of the Headteacher and the Governing Body across most issues. Many people particularly challenged the statements by the Governing Body concerning the effectiveness of the education provided by Ebrington School and its future potential.
Many of the letters received were from parents and past parents, but a significant number were submitted by professional educationalists and education organisations, including teachers, university teacher trainers, senior lecturers in university education departments, college lecturers and principals, the National Association of Small Schools and many more.

With the exception of the most recent past Chair of the Governing Body, who remains a governor, nearly every past Chair of the Governing Body since the Federation was established in 1981, along with many past governors, wrote in strong terms to object to the proposed closure of Ebrington School by the present Headteacher and Governing Body. Their knowledge of the workings of the Governing Body supported by documentation, especially associated with recent times, provides a most valuable and insightful body of evidence. However, it is inappropriate to include much of this evidence in this report as there is a possibility of identifying individuals.