‘Work together or face closure’: The stark warning to Norfolk’s small schools as four prepare to share one headteacher

Kelling Primary School.

Kelling Primary School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2012

Norfolk’s army of small schools will have to “face up to the reality” of working together and sharing a headteacher - or risk closure.

That is the warning being sounded as Norfolk’s first four-way federation of tiny village schools advertises for a single head to oversee them all.

Blakeney, Hindringham, Kelling and Walsingham primaries are uniting as the Church of England-backed Pilgrim Federation in a bid to save cash, share ideas, raise standards - and remain open.

The federated approach - which also includes a single governing body - is becoming increasingly attractive as school leaders seek to make limited resources go further, with Norfolk County Council saying such moves were “key” to giving them a “bright and sustainable future”.

The National Association for Small Schools (Nass) warned against it, saying there was “a strong case against federations for educational reasons”.

But the Rev Phil Blamire, chairman of governors at Kelling Primary, said there was “little choice” other than to work together in this way.

He said: “It’s a reality. It’s about a sustainable future for our small village schools - otherwise in two years’ time we will have no money and no future.

“There must come a time where small schools have to face up to the reality of closure.

“That’s not a good thing, as we feel that a school in a village is important. If we want to give parents a choice, small schools have to do this.”

Norfolk has 16 federations, involving 34 schools, and 18 less formal partnerships, comprising 37 schools. There are 39 Norfolk schools with fewer than 50 pupils, out of more than 100 with fewer than 100.

Blakeney currently has 51 pupils, while Walsingham and Kelling have 43 and Hindringham has 39. Only Kelling has a permanent headteacher, Adrian Platt, with the others covered by county heads.

Mr Blamire said the four were “unviable financially as individuals”.

He added: “Blakeney and Hindringham are Church of England schools. We thought it expedient and it was desired by the governing bodies and parents for the others to become C of E, which gives us an edge of independence.

“We were determined to make sure the structure would work. There will be one executive headteacher and one deputy headteacher, with a lead teacher at each school.”

Mervyn Benford, information officer for Nass, said: “There’s nothing that a federation can deliver that cannot be delivered by an informal collaboration that is well organised, without moving to one headteacher and governing body.

“In a federation, all the burden of leadership and management is placed on one person, which is risky. When four headteachers are working closely together they fire off each other.”

He added that the future for all schools was “so uncertain”, that it was “unwise” for governors to commit to something as final as a federation. And he said parents were “foolish” to think that bigger schools were better schools.

As reported previously, the county council is actively encouraging schools to work more closely together to pool resources and experience.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Small schools are key to a rural county like Norfolk and federations allow them to have a bright and sustainable future.

“Federations are particularly useful in smaller schools where working under one headteacher or governing body is not only helpful with recruitment but also reduces the amount of time headteachers spend teaching. This gives them more time to strengthen and develop the standard of teaching and share best practice for the benefit of every pupil.”

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