Council reveals plan to save Norfolk’s smallest schools

Burston Primary School, which could merge with Tivetshall Primary School under academy trust plans.

Burston Primary School, which could merge with Tivetshall Primary School under academy trust plans. Norfolk county councillors have discussed plans to help small rural schools. Picture: Archant - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

A plan to secure the future of Norfolk's smallest schools has been revealed.

Shelton with Hardwick Community Primary School shut its doors after a decline in pupils numbers. Pic

Shelton with Hardwick Community Primary School shut its doors after a decline in pupils numbers. Picture: Archant - Credit: Sonya Duncan

With education funding stretched and difficulties with teacher recruitment, many schools have been left struggling - but smaller schools in rural areas are more exposed to these risks, as well as the ebb and flow of local population changes in their catchments which can produce year groups with single-digit cohorts.

To limit the impact of such challenges, Norfolk County Council is pushing to make sure all schools in the county are part of a group with more than 1,500 pupils.

Many larger academy trusts already sit comfortably over this threshold, but stand-alone rural schools and small federations fall far short of the target.

The "school groups" proposals, in an education strategy report which was discussed by Norfolk County Council's people and communities select committee, said securing a sustainably good education in schools with fewer than four classes or fewer than 105 pupils was a priority.

Chris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion at Norfolk County Council

Chris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion at Norfolk County Council - Credit: Archant


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But it also recognised the need not to leave educational black spots in more remote areas.

It said: "In a rural county, such as Norfolk, there will always need to be a balance between securing places geographically close enough and a school of sustainable size."

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The report's recommendations were unanimously agreed by the committee on Friday.

Chris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion at Norfolk County Council, said: "Norfolk is unique in the number of small schools we have and we want to wrap support around those schools so they can succeed, wherever possible."

The challenging economic environment for schools has already prompted closures and mergers around Norfolk.

This month the Sapientia Education Trust revealed proposals to shut Tivetshall Primary School in south Norfolk and merge it with the larger Burston Primary.

Between them the schools have just 45 pupils and the trust said a merger was the surest way to keep a primary school in the area.

It follows the closure of Shelton with Hardwick Community Primary School, which did not reopen after the summer holidays. Many of its pupils transferred to partner school Hempnall Primary.

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