We need to support our schools to the hilt, whatever their size
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School years are precious and we need to support our primary schools across the county, says Nick Conrad - whatever their size
Children across Norfolk, this week, will have enjoyed a feeling of pure euphoria! The annual liberation when shouting 'school's out' is quite some feeling! My eldest daughter, who has just finished her reception year at primary school, is looking forward to weeks of fun. Frazzled parents will be wracking their brains as how to best juggle work commitments and entertaining the kids for six weeks. As I reflect on how that first year whizzed by, I'm grateful for the decision I made with my wife 12 months ago.
We had six schools to choose between. Some large, some small, some 'progressive' some 'traditional.' We were desperate to make the decision right. We wanted an environment where my daughter could flourish, where learning was fun but disciplined. My wife has always favoured smaller schools. I was educated in a larger community primary. In the end we selected a little village school of just over 100 pupils in North Norfolk. For us 'small' is most certainly 'perfect' - we have been delighted.
This almost feels like an investment. Not only will my eldest daughter progress through this school, we plan for our other two children to follow. Our family association with the school will last for a decade. Making the right decision takes equal parts research, patience, and honest assessment. Among the various criteria to consider, for us, class size was critical.
My daughter is quietly determined. She has really flourished in a safe environment where she has built the loveliest relationships with fellow students and teachers alike. Clear smaller village schools can really help with children from a variety of backgrounds with the ability to focus in on a child's individual needs. I'm sure this also happens brilliantly in our larger schools; however, I struggle to see how teachers can deliver such a tailored approach when the class sizes are larger.
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Across the world, academics continuously argue that the most effective way to improve student achievement is to reduce the size of the nation's schools, not just classrooms. They argue that small schools build strong communities. Parents and neighbours are more likely to be actively involved in the school. The students benefit from community support and the school in turn fosters connections among neighbours and encourages civic participation. Of course, this is not exclusive to smaller schools, but it seems to be the major selling point of smaller schools.
I researched the schools in my area extensively last year. I was saddened that a few really good schools are facing a tough future due to a lack of pupils forecast to attend. Inevitably some schools might close. Luckily my daughter's school has a healthy number of pupils. However, I sympathise with parents who really want to send their child to the local school but are having to seriously consider that school's long-term viability.
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Sadly, many people deride the profession of teaching, however it is indisputably one of the most important jobs in society. I'll always be extremely grateful to the teachers who have made my daughters reception year so positive, so enjoyable and welcoming. They have helped to set a tremendous foundation in her life.
In the end, the choice of a small school or a large one comes down to personal preference and expectations. I hope the government sufficiently understand their value to the education system and the role they play. My daughter's school had an advantage in my wife's affections - it was where she, as a little girl, had gone to school.
The school has long outgrown the tiny flint and brick Victorian building my wife was educated in. The fabric may have changed but the ethos hasn't. These schools are precious, and we should work hard to support them.