Below are articles from the NASS Newsletter, July 2013 - pdfalso available here in PDF format.

Better then urban and cheaper!

Small schools here and elsewhere in the western world have been consistently proposed for closure on the grounds that they cost more. NASS has shown that under more sophisticated economic analysis these costs arguments have been seriously and damagingly flawed and we continue to tell anyone who will listen, from Ministers to Bishops to Editors to Council Executives, the hard truths.

We are delighted, therefore, to report that in a highly significant finding no less than the OECD in a new report finds that not only is rural education around the world less well funded than urban, and urban environments generally better-off socially and economically, but educational performance is correspondingly poorer EXCEPT in five countries of which the United Kingdom is one. In these five countries the educational performance in rural schools is superior despite the general socio-economic factors being adverse.

This confirms the folly of Ofsted and tigers insisting that rural families are better-off and that alone justifies the better overall, outcomes widely acknowledged in test and inspection outcomes. NASS accepts that in a few shire counties adjacent to major metropolitan areas, dormitory counties for the better-off, the Ofsted argument may be true but across the wider UK rural incomes are low and rural shire counties have been usually wilfully starved of resources in grant settlements.

NASS Meets Minister

Your Secretary and Editor, with Committee Member Andrew Reed (Head of Great Hormead Primary in Hertfordshire) finally met Schools Minister, David Laws, in May. The meeting had been long promised and was at his request. He always offered fresh dates and eventually found the time during the Parliamentary Easter recess.

In personal responses and subsequent communications he has consistently insisted that he does not want to see good small schools closed for financial reasons.

We had asked for the meeting in view of the new funding arrangements and wide range of proposed LA lump sums. He has promised the DfE will review what happens and is prepared to see arrangements adjusted if deemed necessary. Meanwhile a DfE official has repeated the mantra that in effect no school's budget can fall by more than 1.5 per cent for the first two years.

A spokeswoman said: "We recognise that small schools, particularly those in rural areas, cannot meet some of their fixed costs through per pupil funding alone. That is why we are allowing local authorities to allocate a lump sum of up to £200,000 for all schools. This should provide enough flexibility to support successful small and rural schools to meet their fixed costs."

Clearly many Councils are offering nothing like this and we explained that in the Gembling Case East Riding were simply saying they prefer to close small schools than pay them the sum they have set per DfE rule payable to all their other schools. We have referred closure cases to him.

We have also joined forces with former Shropshire Liberal Democrat Councillor, Peter Phillips, in insisting the DfE do something about the disparaging way LAs are treating statutory guidance on closures in cases we are dealing with. The existing guidance was due to be revised and simplified but that was postponed. Shropshire claimed it was only guidance and they did not have to follow it- though there are statutory duty reminders in it. East Riding claimed it did not exist and had been archived.

We have referred Gembling's case to the Minister as we believe there are sufficient procedural flaws to warrant using the rarely used but relevant power to call decisions in. As Peter Phillips found when asking the same for a secondary school he regarded as closed under flawed procedure the DfE told him the failings were not sufficient to warrant calling in but we together now insist these cases show flagrant, wilful betrayal of agreed approved procedures.

We took the chance to link our current interests, arguing that funding was already threatening closures and the guidance was significant for campaigners against closure. We also spoke in clearly authoritative terms about our dossier of evidence of small school virtues. He said he would always welcome evidence and we have already pointed him in the direction of the new OECD findings!

It is intriguing meeting a Minister, for the first time in effect, whose Party is different from that of his immediate superior, Michael Gove in this case. David Laws was the inspiration for the pupil premium Liberal Democrats made part of the Coalition deal. Though we believe any solution for the under-privileged will not really work unless the funds reach the homes involved- why we commended the Birmingham millions a few years ago which specifically were intended to try to bring parents on board- we took the chance to tell him that small schools had been the only learning environment consistently positive for such children and families and that we and Human Scale Education wanted smaller schools in our towns and cities as a result. Maybe the point may not be lost on a Minister who will be helping shape his own Party manifesto for the 2015 elections.

Some six years ago a former Liberal Democrat MP responded as follows to information sent by NASS. He represented a Welsh constituency where closures threatened:
"I'm greatly encouraged by your stance on the small schools matter. In short, and to oversimplify a bit, I really believe that small schools have a core role in local communities, and I DON'T buy the argument that kids are harmed in some way just because their primary school wasn't huge.

Financial and practical considerations have been used by successive administrations of all colours to try and collectivize education in rural areas. It ignores the fundamental tenet that politicians are primarily here to serve not to rule over people. In that situation, it behoves the decision makers to recognise the intimate relationships between local schools and parent preference."

Bishop of Oxford Concerns

We have been forwarded a report by Margaret Hodge for "The Church Times" of a speech by the Bishop of Oxford regretting some of the trends within modern society which he sees as distancing society from fundamental Christian values. We reproduce it here:

We need a new focus on schooling

The Church's special relationship with the Government over schools - in place for 70 years since the 1944 settlement - is dead, the C of E's top education spokesman has said. The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt. Revd John Pritchard, is chairman of the Board of Education. He told a private conference in London last week: "The dual system is bust. It is dead. It is not coming back."

The dual system is the method under which schools have been provided in a partnership between central Government and the Church of England and, to a lesser extent, the Roman Catholic Church. The 1944 agreement recognised the Church's unique stake in education, with its national system of schools dating back to 1811.

The partnership has been under increasing pressure for some time, first, from the demand from minority faiths for the right to run their own schools, and, since 2010, from the changing education landscape mapped out by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove. He has championed two new types of school, free schools and Mark 2 academies, opening the system to other providers, among them commercial concerns.

Worries about the partnership have been growing for some time, but no one has spoken so forthrightly until now. Bishop Pritchard chose to speak out at a private education conference in London, last week, organised by the Board of Education's legal advisers, Lee Bolton Monier-Williams, and attended by representatives of diocesan education boards and other educationists.

At the end of last week, the Bishop gave the reason for his candour: "It was a roomful of educationalists. They knew what I was talking about. If I'd been addressing a different gathering, I might have said the dual system had been parked in a cul-de-sac from which it's not going to return."

The purpose of his straight talking was to focus minds on the C of E's future role in a multi-system approach to schooling. It was a role that should be accepted with confidence, he said. Although the range of providers was growing, with newcomers ranging from local backers of one-off free schools to professional academy chains operating nationally, the C of E was ahead of the pack.
Outside the Government, it remained the largest provider of schools, with just under 5000 schools, including more than 300 academies. "We have the national coverage and a network of expertise," he said.

But the Gove reforms had significantly expanded the task of school providers, making them directly responsible for standards. This responsibility had formerly been shouldered by local authorities, but these had been deprived of their resources by central Government.

As a result, community as well as church schools were seeking help from dioceses, which were now being seen as a local focus of support. "We are increasingly sharing expertise through multi-academy trusts and less formal collaboration projects. Both might include academies, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled, and community schools," Bishop Pritchard said.

"The Government will not accept mediocre standards; so we have to develop a culture of delivery," he said. This meant "tooling up", recruiting skilled staff on a diocesan or regional basis, a move that had considerable financial implications.

Here again, Bishop Pritchard spoke aloud what his audience was thinking: who was going to pay? "We have to convince my fellow bishops to reconsider the balance between the funds going to parishes and what is needed for our schools."

On 3 July, Mr Gove will have an opportunity to hear the Church's view. He has accepted an invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury to attend a meeting at Lambeth Palace with bishops from every diocese.

Wentworth CE Primary

Badwell Ash Primary in Suffolk was proposed by its governors for closure but they have relented as a result of consultation responses. NASS gave much relevant advice to parents fighting the proposal and satisfied with the school. This updates the story as in the full, recently mailed edition. NASS has an abundant dossier of hard facts affirming the virtues of small schools. Such information is a major benefit of membership.
We pick up now again the desperate sound of those proposing closure trying to undermine the one hard fact about small primary school virtues rarely in dispute- their community role. So we publish just some of the more recent examples we know of just how important this relationship can be, mutually and long-term.

Wentworth CE Primary near Rotherham was inspected by your editor in a previous professional existence and had planned to produce a guide to the village in partnership; with the local community. It had done exciting work before which helped secure an excellent report in the days before the "outstanding" cliché was formed. The visit to Castleton had not just been the standard project based on the famous Blue John stone caves but was a study of Castleton itself. They had been asked in such work to analyse the way litter was officially managed and they were expected to report the different designs of litter bins provided by the Council with a view to designing an effective one for the school playground.

A piece of work not involving the community had arisen from two pupils who had wondered which was the coldest part of the school playground. This use of children's own ideas, born of their own experience, very effectively, their planning and methods and the careful balance of teacher input enabled inspectors to have faith in the intentions reflected in the future planning for the village guide.

Eleven years later, on a visit to the nearby Elsecar Antiques Centre and Museum your editor decided to go up to the school just to take a decent sunny photograph. It had rained for much of the inspection period. Seeing a light on he wondered if the caretaker might allow him in but not only was the caretaker there but also the Head- the same Head. She told him that all but one of the staff from the inspection period also still worked there. The school had fulfilled all the predictable promise in subsequent reports, receiving ever more glowing reports including the "outstanding" labels. As a result it had expanded and was now around 120 pupils with some new buildings carefully adapted to the designs of staff and governors.

It was good to look back and the booklet had not been forgotten. Yes- it had indeed been done, and been published and was in regular use in the community. He was given a copy. It had taken longer than expected but that was because once it became a shared, mutual project its very nature required careful initial consideration and planning- all of which had happened but taken time. Technology had been changing fast during those years as well and the availability of digital cameras had needed consideration along with modern printing facilities.

There had been much early discussion of just what it should contain. It was finally determined it would include simple history aspects, include nature trails and ultimately have enough information to qualify as a guide for tourists. The children and staff had played a full part in the entire initiative and the outcome and of course the community had also contributed significantly.

Career Prospects

Over many years your editor, as a former village school Head in the same school for 15 years, has considered that a career in village school headship should be seen as honourable in its own right and for which many ambitious teachers are especially suited. They should be encouraged and appropriately rewarded.

Long tenure can anywhere mean gradual decline if habit and routine take over but in this present age of ever greater scrutiny such drift is far less likely to occur. Some of the finest work NASS knows, for example by our members in Cumbria, has involved and still involves talented Headteachers with ten years or more in the same school. Here at Wentworth one found virtually an entire staff benefiting from the stability and improvement that dynamic, visionary leadership and well integrated community and governor support can bring. It is a very clear example of the wholesome quality that education in small schools very consistently brings.

Harbottle - Community Involvement

NASS has been sent details of this initiative by one of our Northumberland members:

"We keep forgetting to take photos of our weekly community Bistro in action, although it's been running for over a year. We set this up when there was a change in funding school dinners last year. We could no longer afford to use the County Council Catering service. Parents, governors and children said that they wanted us to continue providing a daily school lunch and so the only way we could afford to do it was to manage it ourselves. Some children have a long school day as they're travelling in from remote farms over 15 miles away along very slow roads and tracks.

Where possible we use local produce (including donated surplus garden 'harvests'), some food grown by the children (growing season is very short in upland Northumberland), and volunteers deliver meals to elderly people who are unable to come along to the Bistro. We provide between 20 and 30 adult meals. We can almost 'break even' with our school meals service; the Bistro certainly helps to subsidise the children's lunches for the week."

It reminds us of the decision a few years ago by our former Committee Member and Treasurer, Andy Slater, to take his 100 pupil-school out of the Calderdale meals system and establish the school's own provision. Effectively engaging parents and local shopkeepers they produced tasteful, healthy meals at a little over half the price of the official school meals.
We could detail other activities but here briefly mention some that have come our way. We would be delighted to hear of others, either just the basic information or in a short analysis of what was done. Contributions welcome.

We know of schools that have prepared an archive of their particular village life. Another helped restore and convert an old railway station, closed by Beeching, into a shared local centre. Parish maps specifically featuring local history and geography reflect the same potential for topographical activity well serving appropriate curriculum purposes. One school so specifically studied its local churchyard to create a learning challenge involving the information available.

Helping provide ponds, gardens, nature reserves and so on reflect the Wentworth exercise. One school gained European grant to develop a Community Holiday Club. Facilities for mothers and toddlers and in some case Baby Clinics are obviously useful, and with potential for longer-term school survival. The latter might be adaptable from the provision of wider local or school medical care or the closer availability of repeat prescriptions.

We have been particularly impressed by projects involving partnership with nearby urban schools, especially since one assumes (maybe wrongly?) the new finding that 25% of primary children do NOT know where basic everyday foods come from is more symptomatic of children from towns and cities. A typical project by three village schools using webcams very clearly and effectively identified patterns in farming life and production.

In 2000 ACRE, the umbrella organisation for the many rural community councils across the land, undertook a research project in which they established twelve partnership schemes bringing schools and communities together. In the majority of cases these proved successful and covered a similarly wide range of themes. In all such cases work benefits from patience, and the enthusiasm, energy and insight of the respective Headteachers and their Governors.

Lincolnshire Academy & Chulmleigh

The following two stories expose dangers inherent in too ready an acceptance of some forms of the new umbrella academies embracing groups of schools We urge maximum caution when considering any such arrangements.

Ruthless Lincolnshire Academy
Threatened school manages to escape

A multiple school academy in Lincolnshire has shocked an entire community by proposing that the Charles Read secondary school in a small market town completely close. High levels of protest resulted. Ulterior motives have been suspected. The sale of an entire set of secondary school premises and even the site will be very tempting. Empire-building is also a well documented feature of expanding operational scale.

Ostensibly governors declared the school's results not good enough. Transfer to the Grantham base would amend that. Governors cannot offer any such promise. Research consistently shows educational outcomes mainly reflect two factors- home background and quality of teaching. Research also shows that teaching quality much depends on leadership- always liable to change. Even where dynamic, visionary leadership exists performance may fall victim to routine or habit.

There may well be self-interest inherent in this present proposal. Both schools are in a still selective area with able pupils creamed off to grammar schools but there are more choices for Charles Read families and this makes them more vulnerable to parental decisions.
NASS is concerned by the apparent powers of such umbrella academies to influence and control the futures of the component schools, especially where still with their own leadership. We are seeking clarification from Ministers. Academies are excused many requirements imposed on community schools and local authorities. Do they have de facto commercial carte blanche status over the properties they manage? We advise members to be very cautious when considering such possibilities. It is easy to be tempted by shallow, often superficial alleged short-term benefits.

In this case we are delighted to learn from our Chairman, who lives nearby, that the school has managed to leave the academy and establish itself as an autonomous school in September sponsored by the David Ross Trust. We are also aware of senior DfE intervention in the case by officers with whom we have dealt in the recent past. We have been assured that current statutory guidance on closing maintained schools still applies but consultation in this case was not at the "adequate and sufficient information" levels of judicial rulings.

It is not the only case reported to us:

CHULMLEIGH 'SHIFTS' Y6 CLASSES

A Devon academy led by a secondary school, a 200+ pupil primary and three small village primary schools has made a worrying decision to require the two non-CE village primaries to surrender their Y6 pupils to the larger primary to create two Y6 classes there. Worse, the apportioned budgets of these two small schools will have to pay for the costs of these Y6 pupils despite being at the larger school. This involves a twice daily bus journey up to 13 miles for the worst affected pupil. Journey duration has not yet proved accurate enough for many parents.

Clearly such a distorted management proposition has money driving it and yet governors refuse parents the details of the transport costs involved. They have only after formal consultation ended advised them the pupils will be collected and delivered in the school's own minibus driven by a teaching assistant. Surely this is unacceptable when normally every driver has public service vehicle qualifications on long-term transport journeys. We are advised cases like this reveal just how unaccountable academies can be. It should much concern any small schools attracted to academies under the guise of dubiously-backed, albeit seemingly plausible advantages.

NASS is actively supporting the strong campaign by parents, not just Y6 parents, at these two schools. They have been denied hard evidence justifying the decision or 'guaranteeing' better results for the pupils. The school refuses our similar requests. They simply reject anything argued against their proposal, which has aroused a considerable media storm and a NASS spokesperson has commented on local radio already as part of the opposition campaign.

Culham Progresses

NASS helped Culham fight off closure in 2011. It has now been rated "good" in all aspects by Ofsted, a step forward from "satisfactory." Numbers have also grown, now 47, as we usually find after closure is avoided. The local demand is there despite Council claims but the threat weans it away.

Nearby South Stoke (22 pupils) enrolled two new pupils from other areas three weeks before Y6 SATs and those two failed...... school performance down! DfE scrutiny quickly brought Ofsted to the door of a previously very good school. The inspector clearly understood the situation. We believe those two results will not count and the school's own three high scoring pupils' results will restore proper credit. We welcome any such news of SATs problems

New DfE Funding Paper

NASS is delighted to report this as we and our members have lobbied hard for just such recognition of the threat the current rather rigid system represents to small school viability. The Government has reviewed the early working of the new funding arrangements and a particular section discusses the needs of small schools. The document is a report on consultations on particular questions and summarises of the answers. The document is dated June 2013 and is on the DfE website.

Introduction

  1. We started a process in 2012 to reform the school funding system, so that it is fairer, more consistent and transparent and so that funding intended for education reaches schools and the pupils that need it most. Last year we set out the start of change ahead of introducing a national funding formula in the next spending review period.
  2. Local authorities, with their Schools Forums, developed new local formulae for 2013-14, using simplified and consistent formula factors. Schools across the country are now funded using clearly defined factors reflecting the circumstances under which we believe schools should attract funding, with a small number of exceptional factors.
  3. Many schools and local authorities have welcomed these changes, and the fairness and transparency they promise. Change will inevitably create some turbulence so we introduce these reforms gradually and with funding protections in place through the minimum funding guarantee.
  4. 4. We undertook a short review in February to understand the extent we needed to make small changes in 2014-15 to move closer to a national funding formula. We also wanted to understand whether any unintended consequences had arisen as a result of the arrangements for 2013-14.
  5. We visited a number of areas across the country and talked to members of Schools Forums, governors, head teachers and local authority officers. We also published a short document which sought to understand the concerns and to consider how we might address those concerns. This document sets out the findings from our review.
  6. Most arrangements we put in place for 2013-14 will remain in place. We will however make changes to move us closer to a national funding formula addressing the unintended consequences which arose as a result of the 2013-14 reforms.
  7. Operational guidance describing these changes will be published alongside this document and made available on the Department's website. A copy of the Equalities Impact Assessment can also be found in the Commons and Lords libraries.
  8. We will make the necessary regulations to give effect to these changes in 2014-15. Draft finance regulations and Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) conditions will be issued for consultation shortly.
  9. The statement's contents cover every aspect of funding but the key factors for small schools are

    Sparsity on Page 16
    Lump Sum Funding 19
    Schools with Falling Rolls 22
    SEN 27
    Minimum Funding Guarantee 30
    Role of the EFA 32

    It is clear officials did not find it easy to consider the small school context within their preferred funding procedures, still very strongly designed to age-weighted pro-rata per pupil funding as fairer than anything that happened before. The full document treats the questions raised very fully and the range of responses. Schools will be interested in the entire document.

    We are dismayed that among those responding not happy with proposals to help small schools were some speaking for larger schools. The myth that somehow small schools are massively draining resources from larger school, and that the latter are invariably more needy, needs serious dismantling.

Suffolk Pleased!

Suffolk has cautiously welcomed the adjustment to allow extra funding for schools in more sparsely populated areas. Under the original plan the lump sum could be decided by each local authority, but every school had to have the same. Concerns were raised it could force rural schools to close. Schools minister David Laws said that the Government would "maintain momentum" by requiring local authorities to allocate a minimum of 80% on the basis of pupil characteristics, with a minimum amount of money per pupil, but from 2014 local authorities will be able to give extra funding to schools in sparsely populated areas.