Is this the end of the road for Norfolk’s small schools?

Eccles, Hargham and Wilby Primary school is threatened with closure. Pictured in front is Sonia Humphries and her son Elliot. Eccles, Hargham and Wilby Primary school is threatened with closure. Pictured in front is Sonia Humphries and her son Elliot.

Monday, March 31, 2014
7:09 AM

Small schools in Norfolk could become a thing of the past after education chiefs revealed details of one of the biggest changes to the structure of education in the county for generations.

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Norfolk County Council assistant director of children services Gordon Boyd. Photo: Steve AdamsNorfolk County Council assistant director of children services Gordon Boyd. Photo: Steve Adams

Half of Norfolk’s primary schools could be affected by a renewed push for smaller schools to join together in federations with a single executive headteacher and governing body – and ideally about 200 pupils.

The county currently has 38 primaries with fewer than 50 pupils, which will come under most pressure, and 133 with 51-140 pupils. A number of villages could be left without a school presence.

Gordon Boyd, assistant director of children’s services, said: “We are not talking about school closure. It’s about institutions that are currently small needing to get themselves organised to double up, triple up, quadruple up to form a federation. The unit they then take ideally has about 200 students in it.”

He said the council “won’t go away” until schools under a certain number consider a “structural solution”, and added: “Of course, if you are thinking hard about it, you will rationalise it and you might say you don’t need seven sites, but five. That pulls at everybody’s heartstrings.”

Threatened school could be sign of things to come

Eccles, Hargham and Wilby Primary school could be a harbinger of things to come for other small schools in Norfolk.

It has just 27 pupils on its roll, but Ofsted inspectors found it to be “good” when they last visited three years ago.

It is a Church of England school, and its governors asked the diocese and county council to consult parents on its closure because they were concerned about its sustainability and financial viability.

However, parents have a strong attachment to the school, and are campaigning against the plans.

Sonia Humphries, whose son, Elliott, attends the school, is organiser of Parents Against Closing Eccles School, and speaking after a consultation meeting said: “Living rural is our choice and I certainly do not feel that our son is deprived in any way because he attends a small school.”

She called for “a new governing body, new ideas and lots of enthusiasm”.

The consultation on the school’s future ends on Friday, and if it does close parents will be offered places at other schools for September 2014, but will be able to express preferences for alternative schools.

However, he added that sometimes support for village schools could be “an attachment to mediocrity”.

For the first time, the county council has stated “emphatically” that small schools tended to produce a worse pupil performance, with 61.8pc of children in schools with fewer than 50 pupils achieving the expected standard by the time they leave, compared to a Norfolk average of 71pc. He said the Diocesan Board of Education, whose 114 schools represent more than half of Norfolk’s small schools, is pursuing a similar strategy.

Mr Boyd said problems small schools faced included teacher recruitment, poor socialisation of children ahead of high school and insufficient resources to help those with special needs.

He said the benefits of small schools forming large units included staff helping each other, a critical mass of people to develop new practice, the creation of a “plum job” in executive headteachers, and savings through the need for only one site manager, business manager and school secretary.

He also said the financing of the current system, where smaller schools could receive up to £16,000 per pupil, compared to £4,000 for larger schools, would be unsustainable when the government introduced a national funding formula for schools.

A school’s size will become a more prominent factor in the council’s annual risk assessment of Norfolk schools, with even schools with positive Ofsted judgements more likely to be put in the “causing concern” category and subject to intervention.

Small schools that Ofsted gives the bottom “inadequate” rating could be closed rather than converted into academies.

Mr Boyd said schools with fewer than 50 pupils would not survive unless they could show how they would grow to 100 or so pupils in the future.

He said: “I think it’s an opportunity for the council to say ‘yes, it’s difficult, but we have to address it as a prerequisite for having a good school for every Norfolk learner’. We can only improve the existing school system to a certain extent. We need to reform it, and by that I mean we need fewer schools and fewer heads, who are genuine heads rather than classroom teachers, because of budgets.”

He said that while communities would be given the chance to express their views, the council and diocese needed to be courageous when looking at the long-term future of schools, and consultations would not be binding. He added: “This is not punitive. This is a better deal for children. We know that them languishing in small rural schools is not in their best interests.”

What do you think? Comment below.

20 comments

  • kb - I hope you have asked why that is and also said it's not good enough.. .. no excuse for such neglect is there?

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    Patrick

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • doodle 2 - the article says "with 61.8pc of children in schools with fewer than 50 pupils ...compared to a Norfolk average of 71pc" If as a whole these smaller schools are worse then average, then Eccles Hargham and Wilby 's excellent performance must be offsetting some much worse SATS in other small schools.

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    G_of_Norwich

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • Interesting that this article states that the council emphatically states that ''smaller schools produce worse pupil performance'' considering that the featured school, Eccles Hargham and Wilby - actually has SATS performance at 100% literacy, Maths and Science ; and 73% for Writing - way above county and national averages AND historically has excellent turn around results with SEN pupils - which again was a highlighted general shortcoming of smaller schools. So even when a school is well performing, it is still under threat by virtue of being small. It seems it's not always about performance then.

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    doodle2

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • Daisy Roots, the children from well-to-do families don't tend to be found in the smallest village schools but in private schools and larger village schools. The children from social houses in the rural villages do use the local school as their parents don't have a car or can't afford to travel to the next school twice a day.

    Report this comment

    missy

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • kb: Ask Mr Boyd about it - he can justify his position ... by getting you an answer.

    Report this comment

    Patrick

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • Hi Patrick, yes I did ask but the problem is my daughter is a very able reader for her age and so therefore the reasons given were that she is almost used as an assistant because she reads all the other children's names and hands out their books and reads things off the board etc, so apparently she does some extra reading like that. Although that is not the same and my daughter keeps saying other children get to read with adults, so why can't she? My daughter should receive the same amount of reading time as somebody who is an average reader because all children should be treated the same and given the same amount of time, but it does not work like that and especially in large schools.

    Report this comment

    kb

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • Hi kb. Thank you. That sounds like a scandalous answer from the school! Appalling. Your daughter should certainly have the same amount of time as any other child, her reading should be extended. Has 'differentiation' not reached that school. Your daughter is worth more than just handing out books because she can read the names. I thought we had got past the belief that able children 'will be all rightwill manage' - and the fallacy that Special Needs is only for children who can't do things easily: bright, intelligent - good readers - have special needs as well. Seems that you and your daughter have been let down.

    Report this comment

    Patrick

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  • I agree with the last two posters sentiments. Sounds to me like a case of political dogma and I have little confidence in Boyd from both this and past announcements by him. 'Plum jobs' sounds like an excuse to ramp up pay too.

    Report this comment

    andy

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • I wonder why the model of 30 children born in the same year is used to indicate good opportunities for socialisation. When in our lives do we spend 6 hours per day with a group of people simply because we were all born in the same year? Small village schools with mixed age groups give a much wider opportunities to develop social skills. The children learn to support younger children, they learn to be patient and take responsibility for each other. No need for "buddy" schemes as it happens naturally. Or perhaps it is more beneficial for children to go to larger schools as they will stand a higher chance to be subjected to bullying? That's definitely a life skill to be learnt by all if our society keeps evolving as it is.

    Report this comment

    missy

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • This is a blatant example of someone elected and wishing to show his importance by saying " Look, we are doing something about this Issue ..." when there may not be an Issue and also it might be better not to DO anything except get on with the job and with teaching. Save £££ by eliminating the posts of Director and Assistant Director (clearly not assisting) and putting the funds towards more teachers. Britain lacks management ...

    Report this comment

    Patrick

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • I agree with Missy. It certainly isn't the case with Eccles (the featured school) that parents have ''expensive houses'' in the village - many are in social housing (not that there is anything wrong with that - but not really the same as ''cherry picking'' a location and school; and even the children traveling in aren't from the 'yummy mummy' brigade (whatever that may mean) , but rather are more likely to have children who are SEN (and have unsuccesfully passed through a larger school closer to home first) - which is nothing to do with income; and everything to do with need.

    Report this comment

    doodle2

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • It is obvious that some parents treasure the 'small school' experience for their children, where their child is more special and the teachers have more time to give individual attention to the child's and the parent's special needs. So I have an idea, why not create annexes on the side of 200 pupil schools. The annex would have half the school budget but have only 50 pupils. The main school would have 150 pupils and be funded with the other half of the budget. That way parents can choose whether they want to send their child to a large under funded school or a small over funded school.

    Report this comment

    Rhombus

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • I should like to know, please, whether Mr Boyd REALLY did say "We know that them languishing in small rural schools is not in their best interests." Or is it a transcription error by the EDP? " We know that them languishing .. " !! Surely not?

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    Patrick

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • How do we stand on the point that some families deliberately move into quite expensive homes in small villages so that their children can got to one of these small schools ? Or that some of these small schools only remain open by taking children from outside their catchment areas? I know it is a thorny problem and infants in particular should not have to travel far on a bus. But I recall my education at a 25 ish pupil primary school-4-11-and I am pretty sure it would not be regarded as satisfactory now, especially for 7-11 year olds. In the simplest terms, children may have just two or three children the same age as themselves -a bit limiting when it comes to making friends. They may do well educationally -but it costs. Should we pay over the odds for yummy mummy whims about small school education? A break down of how many of the pupils in the schools are from genuine have to live in the area families might be a good point from which to start the debate.

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    Daisy Roots

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • I find the last paragraph hugely disturbing. This county councillor, elected by his local community on a democratic basis, is stating that consultations would not be binding? I think he forgets democracy applies to ALL strategic decisions made by any government body, including Norfolk County Council.

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    missy

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • G_of_Norwich, the results from Eccles, Hargham & Wilby Primary also offset the lower results of larger schools to get to a county average of 71pc. Statistics can be presented (and twisted) to fit arguments as it pleases the decision makers. Question is, does this justify the present strategy of threatening all schools with fewer than 50 pupils?

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    missy

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • Shows how out of touch education professionals are. The trouble is there are too many people in education, health service and other similar trying to justify their jobs and the result is money wasted going round in circles.

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    caleb

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • Small schools are in my opinion better for pupils as they seem to receive more time with their teacher. My daughter attends a large Norfolk Primary School with over 200 pupils, and has sadly only read with a member of staff once since September and she is only 5 and in Year 1. This I can only assume is because the staff do not get the time to hear children read individually. Pushing more children into a classroom is not the answer.

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    kb

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • The problem with closing small village schools is that parents wiil bear the brunt of the cost, petrol and transport is expensive, and you can bet NCC will not provide it for free or not at all, and also be more damaging for the environment. ( Re todays report on carbon emissions ) .Our high schools are like mini villages some with 1500-2000 pupils ,teachers are stressed with so much paperwork, this school should remain open and there should be more of them , our children would benefit from it.

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    thefox77

    Monday, March 31, 2014

  • kb - I'd ask to speak to the Director and Assistant Director of Children's Services .. and demand to know how this can happen and that they explain what are they doing about this and to show themselves worth even a small part of their salaries.

    Report this comment

    Patrick

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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