Small schools urged to join forces
SMALL schools in Suffolk are being urged to consider joining forces to safeguard their future.The advice came as Suffolk County Council's executive agreed in principle yesterday to close Peasenhall primary, near Yoxford, from the end of August next year – unless it can come up with a viable school federation plan by February.
By Sarah Chambers
SMALL schools in Suffolk are being urged to consider joining forces to safeguard their future.
The advice came as Suffolk County Council's executive agreed in principle yesterday to close Peasenhall primary, near Yoxford, from the end of August next year – unless it can come up with a viable school federation plan by February.
Such a scheme, where schools unite but continue to operate from two or more sites, are seen as one way of safeguarding small schools as the county faces up to static or even falling pupil numbers.
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Peasenhall primary has just 14 pupils, although it is hoped more families will be moving into the village in the near future. Ten children within the catchment currently go to schools outside it.
Parents and governors battling to save the school presented a 137-strong petition to the council before yesterday's meeting.
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Around a third of Suffolk schools – 82 in all – are categorised as "small", or schools with rolls of under 100 pupils. Of these, 17 have fewer than 50 pupils.
Tony Lewis, the council's portfolio holder with responsibility for children and young people, believes a federation is one of the solutions for small schools with falling rolls, and could also be used in larger ones.
"The point about federation is it does mean schools working together for their common good if you like. It would strengthen the viability of all schools in the federation. There are many different ways you could do that."
Under a federated structure, management and planning can be shared across the schools, giving them greater flexibility and making them more viable. Staff, including teachers and support staff, can be shared.
"I would certainly urge them to look to their future and not assume that everything is to stay as it is today. Federation is one of the ways of doing that," said Mr Lewis.
Last year, around 300 school governors and heads from across Suffolk took part in a series of meetings which looked at the challenges they face and ideas like federations.
"In small schools as in small communities you do need a certain critical mass to be viable," said Mr Lewis.
"The schools that are closest to Peasenhall are themselves small schools."
He said he believed the solution to Peasenhall's problem was not within its grasp, but that of the wider community.
"I think it's a question of communities talking to each other. The answer really has to come from the local community, and if it doesn't, it won't stick."
The executive meeting heard that as yet there are no federated schools within Suffolk, meaning that there was no successful local model to learn from.
"The opportunity is there between now and February. If they local communities can get their act together themselves, we would be very happy to help them indeed," Mr Lewis said.
After the meeting, chairman of governors at Peasenhall Primary Sarah Gallagher said: "I think the positive aspect is that we are given more time to federate and there's clear support for the idea of schools federating, and that's what the governing body will be working very hard to achieve."
A group of governors had already met with an officer from the local education authority to discuss ways forward, she added.