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.