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Small schools: An election losing issue?

06:29 31 March 2014

The sustainability of Norfolk’s small schools has been on politicians’ minds for decades, and this is not the first time their future has been put in the spotlight.

In 1993, a programme of small school closures was a crucial issue in an election which swept the Conservative administration out of office, and put the council under no overall control for four years.

Labour and Liberal Democrat campaigners pledged to safeguard small rural schools, and one of the first acts of the incoming Labour-led administration was to vote to save Marsham Primary, near Aylsham, and Magdalen Primary, near King’s Lynn.

The former was particularly significant as it played a key part in the shock defeat of Tory education chairman Frances Roualle, who was at the centre of the controversy.

Marsham Primary fell within her ward, and speaking in November 1992 she said: “I cannot be seen closing down some village schools then voting to save my own local one.”

Given the passions that school closures can arouse in villages affected, and the 1993 election result, politicians have remained cautious when broaching the subject.

Norfolk County Council already has a small schools strategy, agreed last year, which encourages collaboration between schools, and includes an annual review of the smallest.

Gordon Boyd, assistant director of children’s services, said the strategy to date had been to ask questions, rather than provide answers, and they had been quite easily “brushed off”.

The new approach would have sharper teeth.

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