Len Marsh & Small Schools in the City

Len Marsh ArticleIt is with great sadness we report the death of Professor Len Marsh. Len was one of the founders of NAPE in 1980 and its first Chairman. He remained a member and active participant in its work until the end. His many former students and colleagues at Goldsmiths and the Bishop Grosseteste University College will remember with affection and gratitude his outstanding leadership in the field of teacher education. At times students on teaching practice stayed in the homes of the pupils at the school. BG graduates were head-hunted!

We in NASS have consistently remembered his call to arms back in the 1970s when he was working at Goldsmith's College.

Whilst not at the time strictly in our more recent terms, Len clearly saw the advantage of small-scale provision in busy urban areas even then. In subsequent decades urban areas with larger schools have dominated provision to the detriment of smaller schools that have tended to be largely rural- old infant schools and today's nursery schools notwithstanding.

Larger schools have been valued as more effective and anyway cheaper. Neither has proved especially sustainable and NASS has a substantial dossier of the facts upholding such a claim. Without doubt an enduring, long-standing problem still with us- namely the needs of disaffected and disadvantaged pupils and families is endemically an urban problem. Small schools are the only places consistently to have served such children well and the data supports that contention.

Len's visionary concept of a school on every street corner is more than possible. The model is used in many Swedish towns for pre-school education, namely small units within comfortable walking distance but managed by single collective staff team, much as federation works here but by lumping together rural communities miles apart with little collective history or mutual interest. Federation makes far more sense across a square mile of congested housing estate.

We have often mentioned our links with Human Scale education and the campaigns they have run to create small-scale provision in larger places. Under James Wetz' they published a book "Urban Village Schools" promoting his vision of small secondary education units serving large urban estates. The Calouste Gulbenkian Arts Foundation was closely associated with Human Scale's work and sponsored this book. NASS welcomed it but argued that there was no more important place for the small units concept than when children were just starting out on the big educational journey and when attitudes and early competence are shaped long-term. Our campaign "Small Schools in the City" remains a project we wish to see pursued by whatever means possible.

Whenever we mention it to possibly influential decision-makers it is regarded as off-beat and anyway expensive. But it does not need five Headteachers, just marginally more staff anyway a wise investment for younger children, and modern Scandinavian building techniques- functional buildings built from prepared kits.

Our facts dossier reports two recent major studies showing that provided basics are met such as working space, ventilation, sound-proofing, hygiene, you can change a school from a Ford to a Ferrari with little long-term impact on performance (York University for the Design Council included those very words.) Price Waterhouse Cooper told the DSCF as much but they ignored it.

In the mid-80s Oxfordshire's CEO Tim, now Professor Sir Tim Brighouse, asked county architects if they could build a functional school to formal standards but cheaper. They created designs that would have cost half the normal budget for new schools. Nothing happened. Len's passing gives renewed vigour to the argument....a school on every street corner would well address many other major costly social troubles in many urban areas- not always disadvantaged either!