New start for small school

By Sarah ChambersWITH just 17 pupils, it is one of the smallest schools in the region. But despite a long-running threat of closure, the future now looks bright at Peasenhall Primary School in Suffolk as pupils begin the new term.

By Sarah Chambers

WITH just 17 pupils, it is one of the smallest schools in the region.

But despite a long-running threat of closure, the future now looks bright at Peasenhall Primary School in Suffolk as pupils begin the new term.

Last year, the tiny school almost shut down, but it has now entered a new era after teaming up with another primary.

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In a move that could become the blueprint for other village schools in Suffolk struggling with falling rolls, the school safeguarded its future by forming a federation with Middleton Primary, which has 43 pupils.

Peasenhall Primary's roll at one time stood at 14, making it less viable, and when the headteacher left, Suffolk County Council decided it should close unless a solution could be found.

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So the federation was launched and Kath Cook, Middleton Primary School headteacher, now presides over both schools, which have seven full and part-time teachers, with pupils being brought together for some of their lessons.

Under the new set-up, Peasenhall youngsters aged seven to nine will be bussed the five miles to Middleton twice a week to share lessons within larger peer groups.

They will combine for some PE lessons, speaking and listening exercises, design and technology and personal and social education. Pupils will also share swimming sessions.

Mrs Cook, who had been headteacher at Middleton for the past eight years, said she became involved in the federation because of the children.

“It was for the sake of the kids really. The children are the really important thing and I know how we would feel in Middleton if our school was to close,” she said.

“We could soon find ourselves in that situation and I think it's the way forward for all village schools with falling rolls.

“I think it's very exciting and I think it will benefit all pupils in both schools because we have built in lots of working together, especially for key stage two, and the children are really looking forward to it.”

Teaching assistant Kim Nessling, mother of three past pupils, has been employed at Peasenhall Primary School since last April and worked as a volunteer there for four years.

She was concerned last year when it emerged the school was earmarked for possible closure. “The whole community, we were all banding together trying to keep it open,” she said.

“I think it's a lovely little school. My children have left here all quite confident to go up to middle school and the children they used to play with at primary school they are all still friendly with now because it's a nice little community and they all look out for each other.”

Suffolk has 82 schools with less than 100 pupils, the number which the Department for Education uses to define small schools. Of these, 18 have fewer than 50 pupils.

Patricia O'Brien, county council portfolio holder for children, schools and young people's services, said: “Suffolk does have a relatively high proportion of small schools, but this reflects our community, where there are rural populations across the whole county.

“At the moment two pairs of schools are trialling federations as a potential way to help these communities deal with some of the issues around small schools.

“The federations mean that schools will share a headteacher to manage the overall running of the schools and support teaching and learning.

“The schools will also share good practice and resources and there will be more chances for social interaction between pupils.

“We will working with these federations to see how this could provide a blueprint for small schools in the future.”

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