Welsh closures under unproven modernisation concept

"They do not meet the authority's preferred model for a primary school, which is a school with single form entry or a school with no more than two age groups per class," said one Education Portfolio-holder. No evidence is offered to justify a notion that is otherwise little more than opinion. The proposals are part of a modernisation project to cut costs and tackle surplus places. Last year it closed 10 primary schools and built four new replacements. The cabinet will consider the outcome of the informal consultation in April and schools in Llandinam and Carno could close in August 2014. Meanwhile, it suggests that 38 pupils at Llandinam should switch to Caersws primary, which is just over two miles away (4km).

Outdated figures

Welsh-medium Ysgol Carno has strenuously objected demonstrating that costs and roll predictions are seriously inaccurate and always favour the Council's case.

NASS experience suggests a growing threat to small schools in Wales. We urge vigilance and remain willing to advise and offer support.

 

Human-scale Education Review

In our last edition we welcomed the invitation from the Chair of HSE for further discussions of possible shared activities and purposes. We have long endorsed HSE's work as we represent perhaps the most intensively human-scale expression of it in education. They have been successful in attracting financial sponsorship for projects to increase human-scale into larger organisations as well as arguing early for parent-initiated but State-funded schools. Free schools at some levels reflect that thinking. We looked forward to ways we could work further together.

It was a shock to learn the AGM would propose closure. Final steps had already been taken. The AGM was to ratify the decision, and finalise finances and charitable status. We were then contacted by individual members opposing the decision. We very much still valued the humanity of scale concept as small schools epitomise it. So NASS set out its views, we were represented at the meeting and contributed our thoughts of positive directions still open. We were delighted the majority voted to reject the closure. Closure would have left your Secretary and Editor the sole remaining voices (as NASS) for small schools!

We are in partnership with those now shaping the future and we believe HSE may want to focus again on the significance for humanity of scale of primary years. Its fine work creating small scale in larger places remains valuable work which will also have a proper place in the new vision to emerge when the dust settles. NASS looks forward to renewed and positive relationships and purpose.

NASS Website Usage

smallschools.org.uk

Average number of daily site visitors

January 2014 - 160 (Hits 911)
July 2013 - 156
Apr 2013 - 162
Jan 2013 - 114
Aug 2012 - 69

Total of Monthly Site Visitors

January 2014 - 4979
July 2013 - 4690
Apr 2013 - 4885
Jan 2013 - 3538
Aug 2012 - 2144

November 2013 saw 119,513 hits from 14,721 visits but this transpired to be failed attempts from Russian based hacking attempts on - we have good security. Or do they have small school problems too?

NASS AGM

March 15th. 11.00am to 12.00pm

London Contemporary Dance School

The Place
17 Duke's Road
London WC1H 9PY
020 7121 1111

Duke's Road is virtually opposite Euston Station, off Euston Road, very close to St. Pancras and Kings Cross stations, tube stations at those main termini as well as the nearby Euston Square tube station.
It is an important occasion, affirming our life and work for all our members and the many others believing in small schools. For a small but hard-working Committee it is always very comforting to see you there taking interest, boosting morale at times when renewing the voice is especially significant.

The rest of the day is yours, the weekend too if you wish to make it a family occasion. Please do your best to join us. The agenda is straightforward: Minutes, Reports, Elections (rarely any as candidates do not rush forward these days!) etc. and we try to deal with such usually routine matters speedily, leaving time for more open discussions under AOB.

Notes from New Zealand

It is all, as one principal once said, about coping with 'Ministry C.R.A.P' -'The Ministry Continually Revising All Procedures!' As the saying goes it is 'hard to remember you came to drain the swamp when you are up to your backside in alligators'.

Here To Stay

Looking through some old NASS files we found the January 1993 Derbyshire Press Release under that bold heading. "Despite the continued attacks on small schools from the Government and other bodies, Derbyshire's small schools are here to stay." We recognise small primary schools play a vital part in their communities and plan no rationalisations. Clustering will be encouraged and local-initiative federation accepted. Funding formulae will properly reflect the particular circumstances within which small schools worked.

NASS recognises this today through the membership of 20 small schools within the Derbyshire Small Schools Association. We have previously noted the growing number of part-time headships in the county since our earlier report from Brockdish in Norfolk.

We reported several years ago the success of a small school that was proposed for closure in demonstrating that its former pupils outperformed all others in GCSE results at the secondary school. We also reported a lone rural infant (KS1) school whose closure was dropped when the Council recognised its results were superior to the proposed alternative. It is good to find the balance of values and understanding of small school virtues Derbyshire has long demonstrated.

We have twice in recent years approached the NFU but they simply respond to say that farmers, their members, would not approve grants to support the work- and the future- of rural schools. We would welcome any help in changing attitudes. Sometimes a modest grant would enable us to do so much by way of arguing the case.

We have similarly approached organisations such as CPRE and the WI that we presume to own some concerns for the welfare of village communities and met with sympathy but like resistance to help. Members able to advise us on more effective strategy please do so!

Scottish Rural Schools Network

We have regularly brought news of the sterling work done by SRSN, led so ably and determinedly by Sandy LONGMUIR. Here are some background details of its origins.

"My name is Sandy Longmuir, Scottish Rural Schools Network. I first became involved in this back in 2005 when the local authority came and tried to close my daughter's school. The more we researched the information the more we found out about the reasons behind school closures.

At the same time we petitioned Parliament for the law to be changed on school closures and found over 70 schools under threat at that time. We worked with these groups across Scotland to form a national network, SRSN. We've used FOI extensively in many rural cases. We've focused in, especially on financial information because it's very easily referenced and very easily checkable.

In doing do we've managed to prove in many instances that the financial case for closing rural schools has been highly flawed, and in some cases that it would actually cost money to close a rural school. In other aspects of FOI we've looked at more general aspects of education, and have used that to help schools such as Arbirlot Primary."

We've used FOI extensively to good effect throughout Scotland. Possibly the most spectacular case was in Roy Bridge in Highland. We could not have done that without FOI. The second major impact that we've had using FOI has been in providing evidence for the new Scotland School Consultation Act which has just received Royal Assent. The information we provided to Education Committee at Parliament was largely achieved under FOI. Without it we couldn't have achieved such a strong act as we have. I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending the use of FOI to various community groups. It is an excellent way to establish campaign facts."

The Commission to investigate the application of the 2010 Bill protecting Small Schools from unfair procedures under closure proposals and the viability of education in rural Scotland made the following recommendations:

Councils' consultation with their communities should be underpinned by stronger guidance from government on the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010

Educational benefit statements, the documents local authorities use to set out how a school closure will lead to an improvement in pupils' education, must improve in quality and will continue to be a very important part of closure proposals

Transparent, accurate financial information should be required to underpin any financial argument that is made to close a school

Ministers should continue to have the power to call in councils' school closure proposals to determine them on merit, and remitting decisions back to the local authority to be taken again

Innovative solutions should be developed to provide accessible early years provision and wraparound care, including the use of rural schools as community hubs for integrated services.

SRSN comments:

SRSN supports many of the report's recommendations, not least the improvement in quality and transparency of information provision during and after consultations. There needs to be a more rigorous, transparent approach to dealing with such disputes in the ministerial call-in process.

SRSN welcomes the recognition by the Commission that the smallest schools can, and frequently do, achieve the highest standards of performance and do not suffer from any general difficulty in delivering Curriculum for Excellence.

SRSN is very pleased to note the critical comments about inappropriate use of capacity and occupancy measurements in assessing rural school viability and its recommendation to standardise capacity measurement.

SRSN is concerned that recommending diluting the current legislative requirement to establish educational benefit is a retrograde step given Scotland's long established principle that changes in education provision should be made for the improvement of education. SRSN does not understand the argument that giving primacy to educational benefit somehow prevents local authorities from providing the fullest financial and other information about their proposals.

SRSN has warned the Government a spate of closures may now come as the moratorium in place while the Commission worked ends. It wants the recommendations tightening procedure for fair consultation and decision-making implemented quickly to achieve balance and transparency.

NASS Swedish Victory

NASS was contacted by a UK expatriate in Sweden whose local school faced closure. We sent our substantial dossier of hard facts about small school virtues. We share the delight that our information encouraged campaigners who have now won a positive reprieve. The letter says:

"I thought I should send you an update and it's great news. The decision to close the school has been delayed until after local elections in 2015.
You might not think that is great news, but we also feel that before then they will increase the catchment area of our very small school. This should see numbers increase sufficiently to justify the school doesn't get onto this list again.

I'd like to thank you for your information and guidance and while we cannot pin it down to what we received from you, I'm confident it played a role in our communication. That communication, while very scattergun during our campaign (many people involved and many freak incidents), when we look back at it, it's almost as if we had the perfect strategy to fight this, but at the time it was just all hands to deck not completely knowing what the others were doing. So, I'm going to write about it and basically form a strategy document. In it, with your permission, I'm also going to reference you and your organisation. Once again, thank you for your help and time.
Damian"

NASS is pleased its hard facts proved useful. A few years ago a Swedish local authority closed a similar small school despite local campaigners analysing cost factors and finding that they collectively as a community paid more in than they received in services back.

This was what Ian Gilder- a West Suffolk Planning Officer charged with deciding where to locate new housing- found in the 1980s. It was cheaper to provide basic services like education, refuse collection etc. in smaller villages and dearer in the towns. The national Audit Office found later that even in the most rural counties more was spent on services in the towns than in villages. A school remains one of the few returns for village taxpayers on moneys largely benefiting the local towns.