Small, stand-alone schools set to go as plan to transform rural education moves forward

The King George VI Primary School in Great Bircham. Picture: Matthew Usher, The King George VI Primary School in Great Bircham. Picture: Matthew Usher,

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
6:30 AM

The transformation of rural education which is likely to see the end of small, stand-alone primary schools in Norfolk villages is set to be confirmed next week when councillors are asked to approve plans to create larger groups of schools under a single headteacher.

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The new Children’s Services Committee will hear details of what Norfolk County Council has christened ‘the Norfolk Rural Primary school concept model’, which could lead to some communities seeing school buildings in their community close.

The report was published at the same time as a consultation on closing Norfolk’s smallest school, George VI Primary School in Great Bircham, west Norfolk.

It bluntly warns that “a problem remains for Norfolk in that there are too many schools and too many small schools in particular”.

• The list of Norfolk’s smallest schools

The council has previously set out the principles which will guide its approach to small schools, and its preference for federations of schools, and the report for Tuesday’s meeting asks councillors to formally approve the new concept model.

It says: “The aim is to have groups of schools that together create a pupil population of at least 250 and preferably more working together under

the leadership of one executive headteacher and with a governance model that supports this – giving economies of scale whilst retaining local ethos and identity. Examples of this exist across the country from which we can learn.”

The council has visited and talked to councils and schools in Devon, Lincolnshire, Lambeth and Hackney.

Norfolk County Council argues that linking schools together will raise standards, save money and help recruit and retain high-quality school leaders, and the report says the strategy could lead to the closure of some school buildings, and the expansion of others.

James Joyce, chairman of the Children’s Service Committee, said: “One has to be very cold, and, in many ways clinical, to make a decision. The decision always has to be what’s in the best interests of the children, and how can we give the best education for those children.”

Councillors will also be asked to reconvene the council’s Small Schools Steering Group to make recommendations for future activity.

Rik Martin, operations manager for the Norfolk Rural Community Council, said he could understand the logic of closing very small schools, but questioned whether new executive headteachers would understand the needs of a local community.

He called for the strategy to be “rural proofed”, and said: “It’s just another instance of a local rural asset being undermined. I think it’s really important that if you are looking at these economies of efficiency, they include within this that people living in rural communities are not disadvantaged to any great degree.”

He added: “If the only thing left is the school, it is more than just a school.”

Is there a future for small village schools? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

6 comments

  • fingers crossed that when they close your school your children will be moved more than three miles from your house or Norfolk County Council will take great delight in charging you £100 a term to get them there!

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    caleb

    Saturday, June 14, 2014

  • I wonder how these new proposed arrangements affect our many (in Norfolk) smaller C of E schools? It is my understanding that the trust arrangments would pre-clude many of them becoming part of certain models of federation, is this (whether by design or accident) the end also of faith schools (other than in the private sector?)

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    doodle2

    Thursday, June 12, 2014

  • I agree that very small schools are not viable financially and by being too small, are probably not in the best interests of pupils either. However there should be a benchmark that primary schools of 100 puplis should be kept open. They are an important part of village life and we must also keep in mind the welfare of young children who in the initial stages in particular find school stressful. By setting a minimum total of pupil numbers this bound to abused by NCC based on past experience as they will take it to be a minimum size school of 250 pupils. Not sure about grouping under one head. I don't agree with the comment about the relative affluence of parents having a different impact - sounds like left wing dogma to me that is hell bent on increasing marginal rates of taxation to the detriment of all.

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    andy

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • Without full details sounds good in principle but surely a better idea would be to develop these villages with affordable family homes to keep the villages alive.Say 20 or 30 as appropriate. Rather this than mass developments that destroy acres of valuable food producing land that many of our elected representatives think is the way forward. Where possible children should walk to and from school.When you are 4 a large school must be intimidating.

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    jennifer jane

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • This is a good plan and should have been done years ago-class teachers can run small schools perfectly well under the management of a shared headteacher. Everyone who grew up in rural Norfolk will be aware of the extremes of rural education-the children from families who live and work in a village and attend a local school and those who live in larger community but transport their children to a small school because they think it is better for their children. Those places in small schools cost a lot, children in small schools gain in many respects but lose out in others. I know-my primary school had 25 pupils. My one big reservation is the provision of school transport where schools are closed and amalgamated . Transporting a 4 year old is a very different matter to an 11 year old and school buses need to be age designated and have the same level of staff as those provided for the physically disabled and with learning difficulties. The affluent with child care in place will be ok and transport their own kids but the less affluent will have to depend on a bus. If small schools close, parents have got to be assured that their children will always get a place at the nearest school I know a hamletvillage in Cambridgeshire where the children should get a place in the next village but because of development there are having to be bussed to the nearest small town-a much much longer journey and not nice for reception age children.

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    Daisy Roots

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • This is the only solution apart from completely shutting all schools under 100 pupils which wouldn't be in anyone's interests.

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    Sportswagon

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

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

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