Norfolk’s rural schools encouraged to form partnerships to secure futures

Norfolk County Council headquarters. County Hall Martineau Lane, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

Norfolk County Council headquarters. County Hall Martineau Lane, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

Norfolk’s rural schools should form partnerships of at least 1,500 pupils, the council says, as the focus continues to move towards bigger schools.

Alderman Swindell School headteacher Alison Hopley. Picture: James BassAlderman Swindell School headteacher Alison Hopley. Picture: James Bass

In recent years, cooperation has been key in education, with school clusters, federations and multi-academy trusts now common around the country.

It is a debate which has been particularly relevant to Norfolk, where some rural schools take as few as one or two pupils in a new intake. It has seen Norfolk County Council list all-through primary schools and those with at least 420 places as its preferred option.

And in an agenda for its children’s services committee, which will meet next week, the council has recommended that individual schools work in groups, with one governing body, of at least 1,500 pupils.

With school funding largely based on pupil numbers, they say the figure - which would mirror the national average - would offer “sufficient resilience and size”.

The report also says that 105 pupils should be the minimum size for a mainstream school, but that it will, “as far as possible”, uphold the national presumption against closure of rural schools - which means councils have to consider all feasible options before doing so.

The council said most schools now work together, but added: “The future of a minority of very small schools is still questionable, where there are significant issues in relation to quality and in some cases closure may be an option.”

MORE: Could all-through schools ease the strain on school places?

Small schools prove popular in communities, with fewer pupils in classes often enabling teachers to offer more one on one attention.

Alison Hopley is headteacher at Alderman Swindell Primary School, a small school in Great Yarmouth which is due to be merged with another.

Mrs Hopley said children from disadvantaged backgrounds often performed better in smaller, “family-like” environments and that they should remain an option for parents.

“I know every child in this school and I know their families, as do my teachers,” she said. “It is very much a relationship based approach which can offer the nurture that may not otherwise be there.”

In May, figures showed that many primaries in Norfolk admitted just a handful of new pupils. At Hindringham Primary School, in Fakenham, just one pupil was due to start reception in September. But Mary Dolan, who is executive headteacher of its four-school Pilgrim Federation, said the partnership offered economy of scale and shared support, making them sustainable.

What else did we learn in the reports?

• The number of permanent exclusions in September was 16, down from 34 the previous year.

• Norwich was the highest excluding district in 2016/17, and south Norfolk the lowest.

• Just under a quarter, 24pc, of schools permanently excluded a chid in that time, and 10 excluded more than five children.

• The council says it hopes to use Great Yarmouth’s Alderman Swindell Primary School - which is due to close and merge with nearby North Denes Primary - as a site for special education. They say it is a “key component of its commitment to the area”, with feasibility work set to begin.

• Complex needs school Chapel Green School, in Old Buckenham, and the new Rosecroft Primary School, in Attleborough, are still due to be completed and opened at the start of the January school term.

• A total of £23m worth of school expansion work were completed from November 2016 until now.

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