Concerns for the future of Mileham Primary – one of Norfolk’s smallest schools, founded in 1677

Mileham Primary School (L) chair of governors Robert Marsden and headteacher Ed Pearson-Shaul. Picture: Ian Burt

Mileham Primary School (L) chair of governors Robert Marsden and headteacher Ed Pearson-Shaul. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2014

One of Norfolk’s smallest village schools – founded in 1677 – is facing an uncertain future in light of the county council’s policy shift towards federated partnerships.

Education chiefs are pursuing one of their most significant restructuring changes for generations, after last month announcing a renewed push for smaller schools to combine into federations – ideally of about 200 pupils.

Gordon Boyd, assistant director of children’s services, said he was “not talking about school closure” but that he believes standards could be raised if institutions with fewer than 50 pupils joined together under a single executive headteacher and governing body.

Mileham Primary, in the village between Dereham and Fakenham, has only 28 pupils and its headteacher, Ed Pearson-Shaul, is leaving at the end of the summer term.

Governors said there was little chance of recruiting a permanent full-time successor before September, and meanwhile a bid to forge a head-sharing partnership with a nearby school has fallen through.

Parents at Mileham have been contacted to say the school is “pursuing all options” with the education authority and the governors are determined to stave off the threat of closure – but they remain concerned about what the future holds.

Chair of governors Robert Marsden said: “We have been actively pursuing a way of securing the best future provision of education for the children of our school. We were discussing a potential partnership with a school very nearby, but they have pulled out. We want the best for our children, whether that’s here or anywhere else.

“There was a whole tranche of school closures many years ago, but since then there has been a presumption against closure in this county. That presumption is now gone. For the very smallest schools, their future is very bleak if the larger schools will not co-operate and partner with them.

“We may be able to federate with other schools but our options are more limited than they were. One thing I would say very clearly is that the governors have discussed closure and decided definitively that is not what they want to happen. But what we cannot say definitively is what will happen.”

Mr Pearson-Shaul, who is taking up his new post at Saxmundham Primary School in Suffolk in September, said: “There are still options, but the cold reality is that a school cannot function without a head, whether that head is shared or otherwise.

“Recruiting a head to a school such as Mileham is an incredible difficult task. There are simply too few people who want to take this on.

“With the current ‘standards’ culture, my feeling is that the consequences of getting it wrong as a school are so high, and people are scared to take educational risks. It is right that we demand the best for our children, but education is not just about achieving well in maths and English, education is also about learning what you love to do and finding a passion that you can follow.

“A curriculum which focuses on the current standards agenda does not address that. If we don’t give them the chance to create and innovate, they will not be creative and innovative as adults.

“I think for people growing up, their primary school head is a figure they remember. There is no doubt that is going to change if your primary head in a federated school is someone you are not going to see regularly. We are talking about a huge change in primary school education in Norfolk.”

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said: “As with all small schools when a headteacher leaves, the governors at Mileham need to give consideration to the long-term future of the school. A senior partnership advisor in our Children’s Services team has been offering support and guidance to help them look at a number of alternative structural solutions. We will continue to support the governors whatever conclusion they come to about the long-term sustainability of Mileham Primary School.”

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