Other Aspects

The splendid affirmation in our report in a previous edition on Wigley School of the care afforded its children over their six or more years at the school coincided with contrasting national news. As we went to the printer at that time "The Independent's sister newspaper ('i') reported on one day that half of children aged 10 to 14 have seen their parents drunk, while cyber-bullying was becoming "accepted as part of everyday life."

In the same edition it reported concerns among university students and their families that since the £9000 fee arrived teaching time has reduced as tutors chased even more money.

It also reported that 170 leading academics are warning Ministers that school places and teacher supply are growing problems. The DfE denied the latter claim, saying it had met 95% of its target that year. Are we so easily deceived? That defence depends on the target!

The 170 experts may well in fact be right. The school place shortage is beyond denial, with Local Authorities descending to desperate solutions and many schools becoming larger as a result. We repeat that one Local Authority advised parents to seek places in village schools. At one closure meeting in Cheshire five years ago a local campaigner asked why buses available to take children from village schools to towns could not offer places to urban families in village schools using the same buses. This idea always seemed remarkable common-sense. Is now another time for it?

We reported Sue Pollard's excellent book, "Toxic Childhood" when first published. It should be compulsory reading for politicians and professionals alike. Mike Kent's TES column recently spoke of worrying class discipline problems- among 9 year-olds!

News today is filled with growing bodies of hard evidence that our children are unhappy (and bottom of western country league tables) and not well-served by the ever more intense competitive environment they endure both at home, where basic cost of living proves so limiting, and at school, where core educational values are so under pressure from power-seeking politics.

Perhaps NASS is too comforted by news such as Wigley's. Are children in small schools more protected against modern societal drift? Do they have deeper resistance? A study of secondary school Headteacher views on the subject of the village children they receive showed clearly that though the children were certainly less street-wise they absorbed the cultural shock of transfer well, including to the larger environment, worked hard with positive attitudes and achieved well.

NASS believes that education in small schools builds that quality and power. We tell Ministers and parents and employers but no-one listens, or, if they do listen and even recognise the validity of the argument, they say it costs too much. We tell professionals but many of them, not least those in large schools, believe small schools are stealing their money.

We have an almost watertight, irrefutable analysis of the economics of small schools that shows their costs are fragmentary against the rest of local authority and national spending on education while long-term they save money by those very qualities those secondary Headteachers recognised.

Those qualities are the stuff of consistent research across the UK and across the world. When will the public, the employers and parents who pay the taxes, realise they have been betrayed by successive governments for too long and that children deserve better than the majority receive. Meanwhile we must defend the quality of the small-scale, human-scale model we so effectively represent. Are cyber-bullying or parental drunkenness a significant problem? Reader comments welcome.