Praise for Small Suffolk School
NASS has been contacted by a student on a placement in a Suffolk village primary school to study the patterns involved in the life and work of small schools. She has sent us a report and we have provided relevant background data from our national dossier of evidence. We find key phrases particularly warming:
"What I found most interesting was how all the stakeholders felt in the school. Everyone felt included. The atmosphere felt less like a place of learning and more like an extended family. John Dewey (1916) advocated that education should strive to avoid a distinction between conscious and unconscious learning. This was what I observed.
I had no prior experience of a small school. I felt that it fostered a passion for teaching and learning that exceeded anything I had seen or felt in larger schools. To shut a small school (not the Suffolk situation fortunately- Editor) is a retrograde step. I would promote the opening of more small schools. Small schools seem to be investing more into the community, promoting a sense of belonging to the child that links not only with the school but the local environment, a solid foundation for development."
This was BEFORE she had received our documents which, as readers will be aware, say just such positive things about small schools. Ofsted and other UK inspectors make similar points consistently. She felt able several times to contrast what she observed with previous knowledge of larger schools. Noting the significance of staff turnover and the possibility that if frequent it would impact more in small schools, she had observed that small schools tended to retain their staff for a longer length of time than the average.
She saw this as a potential limit on new ideas but noted how effectively the Suffolk school staff felt they had grown professionally because of the wide range of age and ability they dealt with and across the ten curriculum subjects. The school also engaged other staff and members of the community in its work.
She had read of the supposed problem for children of small peer groups. "In two of our year groups there were just one boy and in one there was only one girl." The school's deputy Head felt such situations could limit the possible relationships. "However, the children that I saw and interviewed showed no sign that this had been a problem for them. In response to my question, 'Who are your friends?' the reply was 'Everyone!' and for those that named particular children they were cross-year." The school was part of a proposed federation. The older children did say they felt that one advantage would be the possibility of more friends but for the younger children the issue of more friends never arose.
"When I said that the school felt homely all the teachers agreed wholeheartedly. All of the children I interviewed insisted that they enjoyed school and didn't want to miss school time. I was extremely impressed with the children's social skills and the teacher-pupil relationship was much more than just pupils and teacher but with no lessening of respect.
Within small schools there is greater flexibility for teachers when organising lessons, the school day and aspects of the curriculum. Agreements can be reached quickly and easily. Smaller numbers mean teachers can balance individual help with awareness of what everyone is doing and adjust and adapt accordingly. The children have much better access to the school's resources. I saw children make regular use of computers, arts and crafts equipment, play and mathematics equipment and there were no shortages."
From this report by someone who had studied the relevant literature and other evidence before-hand, and with experience of larger schools, it is clear that though she sees the many positives, and is aware of the assumed disadvantages, even teachers happy in small schools do not understand that these supposed disadvantages in good professional hands really are not negatives at all- in fact in other ways a benefit.
We need to make clear that the few disadvantages are rarely proven to be so (and today easily remedied) while the model itself remains the closest yet devised to the way learning really happens in the real world, at home and at work.
Shropshire's First Free School
A Shropshire school that had been threatened with closure, part of a slate of closures, has become the county's first free school. Shropshire Council's cabinet confirmed in July 2011 that Barrow C of E Primary in Broseley would close, partly due to its falling pupil numbers. Barrow 1618 Free School has retained its link with the Church of England.
Parents applied for free school status to save the site from closure and take it out of local authority control. The new Barrow 1618 Free School held an official opening on Tuesday and opened its doors to pupils on Wednesday. Run by parents and funded directly by central government, the free school will also have greater freedom to teach its own curriculum and manage its budget. The school now has the choice not only to spend its budget on what it likes but also to set its own curriculum.
It has undoubtedly been a community project, with parents and governors working together to put forward a successful business case for the Government to approve. Supporters of free schools say it is about offering choice, while critics say they are little more than a "pet project" for the government.
Early indications are good. At the time of closing Barrow had just 27 pupils, today 44 arrived for their first day. It is perhaps no coincidence that numbers have risen when it is the pupils' parents who have been the driving force. Its long-term success will also rely on this continued enthusiasm. Barrow 1618 now has seven years of guaranteed funding. To get it right, it will need the support of volunteers willing to take on the challenge.
Head teacher Andrew Taylor said: "We've got scope to develop our ethos, which we're all very excited about and parents are clearly very interested in as well." More than 40 pupils are registered at the school this year but supporters said it could eventually cater for up to 70 children, from reception class to Year 6.
Simon Pennington, one of the parents involved in the free school application, who saw his two children begin classes on Wednesday, referred to the school's 400 year-old history on the site. It was "an asset to the community" that needed this "kick start". He said there was an appetite for this kind of school. "Not all children fit into big schools." Parent governor Greg Watson said in many ways the school was going back to its roots. "It was first opened in 1618 as a free school for the poor boys of Broseley. Its main aim was to teach them maths and literacy and to grow their own vegetables to take home." The school said its latest pupils would also be taught about horticulture,
The Voice of Small Schools
NASS BUSINESS PLAN 2012-2013
The demise of NSSF now makes it possible for NASS legitimately to call itself what we believe we have very much been for almost 35 years. We empathise and work with Human Scale Education but they prefer to regard themselves as different, though small schools are daily the environment for human-scale education and all the time threatened with extinction.
During the summer break, domestic duties notwithstanding your Secretary, Barbara Taylor and newsletter editor met to discuss the future. The demise of NSSF gave unique opportunity to start using that phrase, "The Voice of Small Schools" and we agreed to do so as often as possible. We also agreed to use e-mail communication direct to schools as a way between newsletters to keep information flowing and up-to-date.
To this end we shall continue to build our e-mail school address list as we hope to be able to recruit many more small schools that may not hitherto have considered us or even heard of us. We shall use this maximal address list for important announcements like the present curriculum problem where a large national response is needed and where the issues particularly affect small schools.
Our newsletters, recently rather often praised as significant professional documents dealing with other than the political issues of closures and related matters, will continue to be a major benefit of membership for the ridiculously low subscription rate. We have had schools tell us £15 a year is too much. Not even the smallest school surely can claim that. We keep it low as we wish to encourage membership. Individual members pay £10 because we regard parents, parish councillors, governors and teachers who personally believe in small schools as welcome and we would not wish to deter them either.
Members also have access to the personal advice and support arms of NASS should they need it. Just ask! We have an abundant dossier of evidence of the virtues of small schools. We endeavour to report inspiring practice. We are very effective in supporting campaigns against closure but that fire brigade role is not at all the only way we directly work for small schools. So that we can proclaim this more assuredly and clearly we are revising the opening page of our website. As "The Voice of Small Schools" we are demonstrating our belief that we serve the wider needs of society and the nation and determined to say so.
Our business plan aims therefore to make NASS a more visible and therefore more creditable organisation, taking our existing work in high places for small schools to even greater levels and effect... with wider recruitment in mind. We want to make membership be seen as "essential!"
Brighter Future for Chirton School
Free Hot Meals for the First Week!
Chirton Primary School opened again this term after a change of heart by its Governors following a very positive local public meeting in July to consider its future. It has a new headteacher and a lively approach to learning and teaching..... including those free hot meals!
The 21-pupil school, near Devizes, was set to shut at the end of the year after governors failed to attract more pupils or devise a federation scheme with nearby schools but following a report in the Gazette & Herald ( which we largely reproduce here- Editor), the governors received numerous offers of help and ended the consultation process that could have spelled closure.
Chairman of governors Nicky Wragg said: "Following offers of support from other schools, a task group has been set up." It includes Mrs Wragg, prospective parent Rob Hart, and Mike Welsh, head of a successful academy in Swindon. Mrs Wragg said: "Mike Welsh gave an outline of the plans for the school and how he and many others firmly believe it can be a strong, vibrant and successful school."
Dr Patrick Hazlewood, from St John's School in Marlborough, spoke of his commitment to help save our local schools from the threat of closure and promised his support and help. "Parents and villagers held a question-and-answer session. Everyone left happy with a vision of how Chirton School will be able to have a bright future."
NASS gave a 5 minute interview to BBC local radio congratulating everyone and spelling out the virtues of small schools- including long-term cost benefits.
Cumbrian Primary Quality
We value our commitment to promoting best practice and we regard Cumbria as a significant centre currently for best practice. Armathwaite First ( now Primary) School has long been known to NASS and recognised by the DfE Innovation Unit as well as The National Education Trust. It continues apace under its new and very dynamic headteacher, Helen Hepworth. Helen partnered her predecessor, Jenny Dixon, in many presentations across the country of their innovative work, not least the links between school, parents and community.
The Heads of Grasmere and Hawkshead schools have directly been involved with our work supporting South African teachers in working mixed age and mixed ability classes. We have been a bit shy about our South African involvement. The South West teacher Training College obtained funding from the Dutch Government to develop these methods and initially its senior managers went there to look for help with their project. They found no answers, nor in other countries where they looked- until they came to the UK, to NASS and to Cumbria. They openly admitted they had never seen quality of teaching and learning like that seen in those two schools.
We reported the Ofsted "outstanding" report for 21-pupil Gilsland Primary up by Hadrian's Wall and we have demonstrated the quality of Mark Squires' 14 year tenure at Langdales Primary both through his amazingly informative newsletters and the exciting outdoor learning activities his pupils enjoy- such as have featured on our newsletter covers. Langdales has just gained another very successful report on the quality of its religious education.
When we held our NASS conference in Penrith the final speaker was John Roberts, long-time Headteacher of Bewcastle Primary right on the Scottish border and England's most northerly school. John presented his work on children's writing in a talk both compelling and at times distinctly humorous. You will be very amused by his account of a recent inspection we publish on our final two pages. John secured a £2000 grant from the local support officer and used it to promote his dedication to writing as a collaborative activity. The result is an absolutely superb book of his children's work - "All Write Now" - which NASS hopes to be able to offer well under cost.
Nor is it just gut professional instinct. John sustains his belief through relevant references in a philosophically professional final chapter to such as Vygotsky, who stated that what children can do with the assistance of others might be more indicative than what they can do alone. John cited Bruner and Wenger as further advocates for his strategy. The book treats a wide range of the 38 children's writing.
Readers will recall the last newsletter in which we congratulated Captain Shaw's on winning its campaign to stay open. NASS evidence during consultation specifically refuted claims, that small schools were educationally unviable by reminding officers they had this cluster of Cumbrian schools as fine examples of a wholesome and effective model of education.
Under our new business plan, the promotion role, we have asked John if he might talk to his colleagues at the local Windermere conference they have planned this term, about setting the group up as a focus of best primary practice. If they agree, he has agreed to be a link contact.
We see this as particularly desirable because just before the end of term, when everyone is going away, Cumbria announced yet another county-wide review of provision under which, bearing in mind the officer negativity in the Captain Shaw's case, we expect more of the unviability rationalisation themes that were part of the last review. That was launched the day the Easter holidays began and only determined efforts by NASS and local media were able to set the ball rolling that eventual saw the meat of the primary proposals withdrawn.
This time Mark alerted us and we have suggested that he and his colleagues might consider a pre-emptive step in arranging an open conference for anyone interested on the subject of small school virtues - our now standard "Assets not Liabilities" theme.
Langdales Diocesan Inspection Report
Langdale Church of England Primary School is a small rural school serving the villages of the Langdale Valley in the centre of the Lake District. The vast majority of the 38 pupils are of white British heritage and come from mixed socio-economic backgrounds. The school's extensive grounds provide a range of outdoor learning activities which are a key feature of the curriculum.
The distinctiveness and effectiveness of Langdale Church of England Primary School as a Church of England school are good. The school's Christian character is well-established and is based on Bible teaching.
The adventurous outdoor curriculum has a very positive impact on pupils' spiritual and personal development. The strong links with the church and local community make a very positive contribution to the school's Christian character. The re-invigorated leadership of the governors and headteacher has resulted in significant changes which provide the school with the capacity for further improvement.
- The very good relationships, based on Christian care and respect, which support pupils and their families.
- The adventurous outdoor learning experiences which effectively promote pupils' spiritual and personal development.
- The strong links with the church and local community.
We have also praised Cumbria's secondary school cluster serving northern areas much as our named primaries do. Known as the Cumbria Rural Academy, several of these schools have rolls most education officers would dismiss as unviable but their results stand the test of scrutiny much as Fairfield in Herefordshire always did with under 400 pupils. It is good to be able to report similar positive news about High Schools in Canada where rural ones have been out-ranking the rest.
Rural high schools shine in rankings
Glentworth Central School is No. 1 in the province, according to the latest report card by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy ranking high schools throughout Saskatchewan. Last year's third place contender was in the top spot this year, followed closely by other rural schools. Central Butte School was second, Medstead Central School was third, McClurg High School in Wilkie was fourth and Lake Lenore School rounded out the top five.
"You'll see many of the schools are rural schools," Rodney Clifton, senior fellow with the FCPP, said of the top-place finishers, noting a wide variety of data is analyzed to produce the report card's rankings. "People wouldn't think that the students in those schools are doing as well as they are doing. Some of the city superintendents, principals and teachers should be visiting some of the rural schools and seeing what they're doing."
Bring Them In!
Eliza Hollis, head at three primaries - Tiffield, Whittlebury and Stoke Bruerne - said schools in rural areas are struggling to get pupils. She is encouraging parents to think 'outside the town' when they choose schools for their children.
Last month Northampton town centre schools were reported to have a 'sudden influx' of admissions. Five schools were forced to cope with demand. Tiffield has just 21 pupils but Mrs Hollis says many parents do not realise they can choose other schools with vacancies. "When I took over Tiffield it was in a period of instability and Ofsted had given it a notice of improvement. Within two weeks of my taking over that had been taken off. I think it is important for parents to realise that they can choose to send their children elsewhere. For parents in places like Hunsbury we're not that far away."
Mrs Hollis said students at the three sites interact with each other and Skype other pupils so there is great communication. She added: "If parents are commuting that way then they are driving straight past us and they can continue going to work. We are small schools, but it is a very nurturing environment and we have a helpful adult to pupil ratio. Bigger is not always better - we are small and unique."
How Sustainable Is Your School
The Government wants all schools to be sustainable by 2020. All new school buildings have to be zero carbon by 2016. Is this something to work on now? You can now request that Ofsted looks at sustainability when inspectors visit. A zero carbon task force suggests four key areas for action:
- Reducing energy use in schools
- Sharing energy supplies
- School building designs
- Exploiting relevant and potential technologies
Standards Without Stats
A school in Wales reported in an article in "The Teacher" how the abolition of national testing had liberated the curriculum and enabled an innovative and creative approach. Much of the work connected with local arts and cultural activities. "There's more chance of pupils having a "lightbulb" moment of inspiration or understanding."
Much of the success came about through working with the local community, opening up the curriculum to its real world applications. Almost every day one or other of its classes was off-site. The impact on standards has been dramatic. Results have shot up. Pupil numbers have also increased. And the school had a waiting list for the first time.