Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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.
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 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.