Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Stating the obvious

I was disappointed by the report a few days ago about the Assembly Committee which had been deliberating the question of small rural schools. The conclusion that 'small schools should not be kept open at the expense of a child's education' is unquestionably a case of stating the obvious, and didn't need a six month enquiry to reach.

Some politicians have a technique of asking questions in a way which leads you to the conclusion that they want, and the statement by the committee's chair, Alun Davies AM, is a classic in that context. "Should we provide children with a second-rate education so a community group can have a hall in which to meet?", he asked. Well, no, of course not – but that isn't what anyone is asking for. When communities lose their school, it isn't the buildings that are the most important factor – it's the social and community activity which revolves around the school.

I've had some experience as a parent of children in both a medium-sized urban school and a small rural school, and the educational experience of children in the two settings is clearly very different.

Larger schools provide more competition between children of the same age, and for some children, the lack of that element in a small school can be a real problem. But smaller schools can provide a real family atmosphere in which there is individual attention for children, and in which the children look out for each other across the age ranges.

Larger schools can and do select the ablest pupils to take part in concerts, sports and shows – small schools typically find a role for every child in every event.

Small schools tend to get more support from parents, grandparents and friends at their events. There is a much more real sense of 'ownership' by the community. A turnout of 20% at the annual meeting with governors would be considered good by many larger schools; less than 80% at many small schools would be seen as very poor.

There is no necessary reason why the educational experience provided in a small school should be any better, or any worse, than that provided in a larger school; but it will be very different. The quality of leadership is probably the most important factor governing success or failure, not the size.

That brings us back to the one factor which is indisputably different between small and large schools – the cost per head. From this report, as from so many other new stories in recent years, it is hard to escape the fact that, whatever politicians say about the quality of the educational experience, the real driver behind the move to fewer, larger schools is financial. And no-one should be surprised that, when they realise this, communities feel that the community benefits of retaining the schools make it a price worth paying.

1 comment:

alanindyfed said...

Society has suffered grievously from a breakdown in community values. We now live in a highly competitive world in which these fundamental values have been cast aside in the pursuit for wealth and naked ambition. Laws supposedly put in place to protect society - particularly the old, the young and the poor - have little effect owing to mismanagement and squandering of resources. It is a scandal and blame needs to be laid at the door of the Westminster government. Furthermore, there is an erosion of civil liberties which extends into the corridors of Parliament itself, with the arrest of Damian Green.
Something has to be done before Britain veers towards complete totalitarianism.