Suffolk: Warning to county’s 40 small schools as authority bids to raise standards of education

Middleton Primary School - a popular small school. Middleton Primary School - a popular small school.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
12:11 PM

Children’s education is more important that the needs of the wider community when the fate of small schools in Suffolk comes under the microscope.

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That is the blunt message from the county councillor responsible for education as members of the scrutiny committee prepare to look again at the allocation of school places in Suffolk.

Lisa Chambers said she was aware of the importance of small schools to the life of many villages – but her first priority would always have to be the education of children.

She said: “I know that will not be what communities want to hear, but the first priority has to be to give children the best possible education.”

While some children thrive in small schools, there are concerns that those which are very small cannot give their pupils the breadth of education they need – how can children of four and 11 be taught together in a one or two-class school?

The county council’s scrutiny committee is this week due to hear a report on how it plans the allocation of school places in Suffolk.

The report points out that the government’s definition of a “small” school is one with fewer than 100 pupils. In Suffolk 40 of the county’s 257 primary schools are defined as “small.”

Most have entered into federations with other schools to share headteachers, administrative support, and some lessons.

However Ofsted inspections have highlighted concerns that pupils in small schools might be missing out.

Mrs Chambers said she would be concerned if her children were taught in mixed-ability groups, let alone mixed-age classes.

“I am aware that the concerns of parents may be different from that of the wider community when looking at their local schools, but it is the interests of the children that have to come first.”

There are no immediate plans to close any small schools – and if any such proposals come forward, there is a fixed procedure that has to be gone through before any closure can be confirmed.

The cost of running small village schools is also a factor – although Mrs Chambers said the standard of education was the over-riding factor.

Graham White of the NUT in Suffolk said his members could understand the issues surrounding very small schools – but feared the county council could target those which were larger.

He said: “It could be difficult to provide enough breadth to pupils of a very small school with less than 30 pupils and our members recognise that.

“However there are good points to be considered with smaller schools in rural areas – youngsters can walk or cycle to school.”

Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey has several small schools in her constituency – many are members of federations with each other.

She said: “I would be concerned about any attempt to introduce a fixed policy from the top. That happened in Norfolk some years ago and did not do a great deal.

“Some small schools can be very successful when working together – schools like Middleton and Peasenhall primaries are small but are greatly valued by parents.”

This comes less than a week after the primary school league tables were published, which showed that Suffolk is one of the worst performing authorities in the country.

2 comments

  • So, Mrs Chambers said she would be concerned if her children were taught in mixed-ability groups, let alone mixed-age classes. Has Mrs Chambers been and visited any of the Suffolk primary schools? My child is currently in a mixed year group of year 3 & 4 and the majority of the time is with mixed ability except for maths and English. Her school is not classed as "small" but according to Mrs Chambers this is a concern!! How ironic then that she supports the decision to close the Good Middle schools that teach one year group at a time....unbelievable!

    Report this comment

    MDavies

    Tuesday, December 17, 2013

  • Not closing small schools was a key manifesto pledge when the Tories took control of the County Council back in 2005. Lisa Chambers stood on that manifesto. If she wants to turn her back on it now, she should have made that clear before she was re-elected in May. Small schools work brilliantly when they are in federation schools, as Dr Coffey's example of Peasenhall shows. Education officials have always been against them, it is Cllr Coffey's job to stand up for them, not simply "go native" and deliver whatever officials want.

    Report this comment

    IpswichSpy

    Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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