"We Need More Small Schools" booklet

At the recent NASS AGM the subject of the booklet "We need more Small Schools" was raised. This publication was originally produced many years ago and, at the time, a hard copy printed as a sort of newsletter and posted to all members at that time. Mervyn Benford has been periodically up-dating the content.

The booklet pulls together a catalogue of evidenced virtues of small schools - academic, social, community AND economic. We need more articulation of these virtues especially in view of the growing threat to the existence of the smaller school.

To help publicise the contents, the booklet is being made available to all via the website as a 25 page PDF - pdfwe-need-more-small-schools-jan-2015.pdf (250kb)

If any interested readers would like to help contribute to this booklet for future versions, please contact Mervyn Benford at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A Charter for Early Childhood

A Charter for Early Childhood

Transforming policy and practice

Our 12 point charter aims to influence the manifestos of all the political parties. Several member organisations have produced their own manifestos and we encourage the whole sector to seek areas for consensus to guide politicians in their decision making, using the latest evidence from research and practice.

The Early Childhood Forum (ECF) brings together membership organisations from across the early childhood sector to debate issues, celebrate differences and develop consensus. Together, we champion all young children and their families, promote inclusion and challenge inequalities, discrimination and prejudice.

ECF promotes the principle that a child’s best interests are paramount (Children Act 1989) and children have human rights to family life, privacy and dignity (Human Rights Act 1998).

Elements in current policy and practice work against this principle and are barriers to enabling early years practitioners to focus on their key role. For example, the focus on summative assessment, testing and league tables takes staff away from time spent developing relationships with children.

Investing in early years is critical.

Early Childhood Forum

National and international evidence shows the cost benefits to the public purse of investing in early years for longer term social and economic gains. Fair, devolved funding per child in their early years is needed to improve the health, well-being and educational experiences for all children.

For more information please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
or visit our new website: earlychildhoodforum.wordpress.com

Our charter - beliefs and principles

ECF believes that early childhood is a crucial stage of life and that :

  • the needs of the infant and child must be placed at the centre of the planning and provision of high quality services./li>
  • all children are entitled to participation, provision, play and protection, as outlined in the UN Convention on the rights of the Child and to live without fear of discrimination.
  • the safety and well-being of children is central to every aspect of children's learning, health and development.
  • knowledge and understanding of child development is fundamental for all practitioners who work with young children.
  • parents and the home environment have the strongest influence on children’s development.
  • learning is a process of development through interaction and experience which begins before birth.
  • young children should have equal rights to culturally and developmentally appropriate play-based provision, both indoors and outdoors, which develops their understanding, dispositions, skills and knowledge.
  • every child needs sensitive, attuned and responsive care in the first years of life and a key person to support them.
  • all parents need support at times to feel confident in raising their children in a loving and supportive environment.

A Charter for Early Childhood
As proposed by the Early Childhood Forum - June 2014

  • 1 - Agreement to set up an all-party planning and funding group to develop and implement long term policy for young children’s education, health and care.
  • 2 - A demonstrated commitment to multi-professional working across education, health and care based on evidence and informed by research and professional guidance from practitioners.
  • 3 - Consistent, well funded and effective policies that give parents and carers real choices about whether to stay at home.
  • 4 - Universal access to children’s centres and related services as a vital route to family support programmes and outreach for vulnerable families or those in crisis.
  • 5 - Support for family and child physical and mental health through equitable universal implementation of the health programmes.
  • 6 - Formative assessment throughout early childhood to support families and professionals to provide the best possible care and education.
  • 7 - A statutory framework for early years from birth extended to age 7 that is coherent and appropriately developed and elaborated for different stages within it.
  • 8 - Guidance that acknowledges each child’s unique requirements at every stage of development and which recognises the importance of consistent loving care from a main carer in a nurturing environment.
  • 9 - A presumption for fully funded inclusion for disabled children and those with special educational needs. Early years providers must have access to specialist support and qualified Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCos), as in schools.
  • 10 - A commitment to work towards universal high quality integrated education, health and care whilst strengthening the entitlement for children in early years to access play and daily outdoor experiences in all provision until age 7.
  • 11 - A specialist qualification route which includes graduate staff who are qualified to work in the early years phase (birth to age 7) with a clearly defined pay and career structure and a statutory requirement to participate in continuous professional development.
  • 12 - Integrated inspections that are carried out by qualified and knowledgeable inspectors, who have had experience of working with children under age 7.

All Saints Infant School faces secure future

all saints 1All Saints C of E aided Infant School, built in 1865, is a typical two class room village school building of Victorian design, situated next door to the church from which it gets its name. It has an accommodation number of 60, with pleasant school grounds and is well thought of by the parents whose children attend the school. Despite its popularity, the future of the school has been uncertain for many years.

The dilemma facing the school was that it is sited in the centre of Reading and had no natural junior school for its pupils to transfer to at the end of Key Stage One.The situation came to a head during the Spring/Summer of 2010 when none of the year 2 pupils were allocated places at schools of their choice; parents began to take their children away from All Saints if a place came up in the school they wished their child to transfer to at the end of year 2. The number of parents putting All Saints down as their first choice fell dramatically and the school's viability was threatened.

all saints 2However the new government initiative regarding academies and free schools gave the governors, staff and parents the incentive to pursue an idea Linda Phillips, the headteacher had considered four years earlier. At that time the school office was being extended and whilst the building work was going on, the administrative staff worked from a large building opposite which had been occupied by Social Services but now stood empty. As Linda walked round the building she thought 'August House', with its large grounds, would be ideal for a junior school. She enlisted the help of parents and governors and with them started a campaign working with the Diocese and Local Authority to secure August House to provide the much needed junior places. Unfortunately this did not fit in with Reading Borough Council's plans and so there was no money forthcoming.

The Free School idea gave the campaigners another avenue to explore. A break through came when a member of the Parish Church Council, who had links with the CfBT Education Trust which is based in Reading, discovered the organisation was looking for a project in the Reading area. CfBT agreed to sponsor the proposal and the parents formed All Saints Action Group (ASAG). Alok Sharma, the local M.P. was very supportive and with his help the new junior school became one of the first 24 free schools to be established.

At present sixteen year 3 pupils are taught in All Saints Church Hall, which has been refitted out as a classroom with Free School funding. August House has been purchased as part of the Education Trust and is being refurbished and extended over the coming year so as to be ready for September 2012.

The parents are delighted that at the end of Key Stage 1, their children will transfer to the junior school on the other side of the road. All Saints Infant School is heavily oversubscribed and its future seems assured.

Commons Rural Schools special adjournment debate

NASS is delighted to report the debate on 8th February secured by Jamie Reed MP intervening to try to secure Ministerial intervention to stop Cumbria closing Captain Shaw’s primary in Bootle

Because of the size of the document, we have made this available as a downloadable PDF file instead of a standard website article.

Rural Schools Commons Adjournment Debate

More Small School Quality

Qualifications- a redundant currency

by Mervyn Benford

Hard research consistently shows that education is about people. It is about the relationship between those who know and understand already and those who want or need to know. In 2009 Professor Hattie from Auckland published his analysis and related summary of thousands of small scale national and international studies over 15 years of what proved effective in teaching and learning. He then put them in a league table of relative effectiveness. The top factors were human factors.....not least pupil self-esteem and awareness and relationships.

System factors like buildings, tests, inspections, organisation, structures were down at the bottom.

It is not just employers who criticise outcomes. In 2009 Professor Birkhead at Sheffield University published a report in which he argued convincingly that schools failed to prepare pupils for university as we had bred a generation unable to think for themselves. Sadly schools do not teach such competence but it lies at the heart of everyday life and work. Yet universities must take the blame for how teachers work. At a National Education Trust conference in 2009 Paul Bennett of the National Leadership College described a project which brought 150 primary children to them for a day to talk about what they most liked in their schools and what they thought about school and their needs. The following catalogue describes the pupil perspective presented summarily. As you read it try to imagine where it currently happens as standard experience.

We want to learn about real things.
We want to break down subject barriers.
We want to choose our curriculum.

We want more time for our work, to learn better.
We want to learn about the world and world events.
We want more work with different age groups.
We want to learn about parents and adults.

We want to use different technology.
We want more doing and making.
We want experts to inspire us.

We want more work in teams.
We want other country contacts.
We want to work more outside.
We want to laugh together.

Current educational provision should start with these demands because they do develop real skills of initiative, problem-solving and creative ideas. Secondary schools should then build on these, exploiting and extending the growing practical skills and insights their pupils are developing. Today they concentrate heavily on the purely academic demands of university entrance which still heavily hang upon basic instruction of prescribed facts to be memorised sufficiently to pass tests and exams. This present examination concept is long out-of-date. The more we persist with it the more desperate become the efforts to accommodate it. Employers know that Professor Birkhead is right. The universities know their pursuit of increasingly meaningless examination grades creates problems for themselves. So many pupils now obtain not only conventional 'A' grades but also the supposedly more demanding A* grades that colleges talk of limiting university entry to particular favoured (i.e. traditional) subjects. Comparable achievement in physics or hairdressing will mean nothing. This is academic myopia at its worst.

This paper finds a place on the NASS website because in the small school, with its mixed age and ability working, strong family ethos and community roots the working practices more closely resemble those implicit in the wish list above given to the National College. The small school model is closest to that very effective one found in families and working life.