Small schools not the answer to modern educational needs

Monks Eleigh Primary School are looking to fight back after their recent Ofsted report put them into

Monks Eleigh Primary School are looking to fight back after their recent Ofsted report put them into special measures. - Credit: Archant

There is something almost romantic about a small village school with a couple of dozen pupils who are all known personally by every member of staff.

It’s a bit warm beer, the steam train chugging past in the distance and Colin Cowdrey scoring 100 at The Oval to win The Ashes.

But I wouldn’t want any of my children to go to such a small school!

In the modern world of the 21st century where we are supposed to all be connected to everyone else and there is a need for the best possible and most rounded education possible, I don’t see how a small primary school with less than 100 pupils can offer anything like the breadth of learning needed.

I can’t see how the best teacher in the world could possibly work with four-year-olds straight out of playgroup in the same classroom as 11-year-olds preparing for the move to high school.

Even those schools with two classes – one for four to seven-year-olds and one for eight to 11-year-olds must struggle to cope with the range of educational needs.

I can understand the desire of communities to want to preserve and enhance their village schools. They are often a focal point for activities, from parish council meetings to evening country dancing sessions.

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But county council education spokeswoman Lisa Chambers is absolutely right when she says that the first priority of village schools must be the quality of teaching, not necessarily their value to the local community.

Most successful schools are those which have enough children to be able to teach those of a similar ability as a group.

At primary level that does not usually involve “setting” according to ability, they are not large enough and are unlikely ever to be.

But it should involve teaching children of the same age together as a year group – not mixing up those of different ages.

If communities want to save schools for other uses then they should come together to buy or rent the buildings – although facilities can often be better in a purpose-built village hall.

Of course it takes a brave politician to make that point. There is nothing that communities will fight harder for than their village school (okay, so the shop and pub run a close second!).

However if Suffolk is to climb up the school league tables it cannot allow sentiment to cloud the decisions it makes over the future of education.

Small village schools may seem like a good idea. They may produce well-behaved children who respect their teachers.

But do they produce youngsters who have been educated in a diverse environment, where they can be stimulated by their peers into starting on the long journey to a top university? I’m not convinced.

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