Small schools: What is life like at one of Norfolk’s smallest, Brockdish Primary?

The pupils at the small Brockdish Primary. Picture: Denise Bradley

The pupils at the small Brockdish Primary. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

With Norfolk's small schools under threat of closure if they do not form federations, education correspondent Martin George finds out about life in one of the very smallest.

Brockdish Primary School. Thomas, seven, stands a security as Emma, seven, left; and Lilac, seven, w

Brockdish Primary School. Thomas, seven, stands a security as Emma, seven, left; and Lilac, seven, work in their shop. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

Set in a small village amid the fields of the Waveney Valley, and with just 21 pupils and two classes, Brockdish Primary School sounds like the epitome of a romantic rural education.

The school, which dates back to 1843 and occupies a former workhouse, faces many of the issues confronting the county's smallest schools. It is now looking to secure its future by forming a federation with other schools, with a total of 250 children.

Gill Key, a governor, said: 'I think it's the way forward, definitely, purely to keep the school open. It will be good for the children to see other schools and how they work.'

Brockdish Primary School. Emma, seven, left, and Lilac, seven, at work in their shop. Picture: Denis

Brockdish Primary School. Emma, seven, left, and Lilac, seven, at work in their shop. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

• Analysis: How well do Norfolk's small schools really perform, and how much do they really cost?

• Small, stand-alone schools set to go as plan to transform rural education moves forward

• Small schools: Does north Norfolk's Pilgrim Federation - with four primaries - show the way ahead?

Brockdish Primary School. Harvey, nine, left, working with Tallulah, eight, and Luc, nine. Picture:

Brockdish Primary School. Harvey, nine, left, working with Tallulah, eight, and Luc, nine. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

Headteacher Mandy Reeve, who has previously taught at Suffolk's largest school, said she 'just fell in love' with Brockdish when she first visited six years ago.

'It was the instant awareness that the older children really look after the younger ones', she said. 'It's like a family. There's that ethos of caring for each other. Here, if a child falls down, two or three children are there before a teacher. They are just phenomenal. The older children grow up to be very caring individuals, and I think that sets them up for later life.'

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The pupils are polite and confident when showing visitors around their school, whether it is the downstairs classroom used by the reception and years one-two, the upstairs classroom used by years three-six, or their vegetable patch and newly created nature area.

A typical day starts when children go inside for their first activity, 'target time', where each works on a specific area they have been given to improve. There is a daily whole-school assembly, and at break time all the children can play together, and they have lunch together in the hall. Some afternoons are devoted to whole-school activities, such as a recent session making things for the nature area.

Brockdish Primary School. Picture: Denise Bradley

Brockdish Primary School. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

Concerns are often raised about very small schools; do children suffer academically and miss out socially, or do staff lack training and support? Staff, governors and parents say this is not the case at Brockdish.

Mrs Reeve said younger pupils in mix-age classes 'blossom' because they saw what older pupils were doing and wanted to do the same.

She said that for three of the previous four years, children leaving Brockdish made above-expected progress, and the other year was in line with national expected progress.

And she said Brockdish worked closely with others in its cluster of local schools, with teachers training together and having shared staff meetings, and pupils regularly doing activities together. The school's current Ofsted rating is 'requires improvement'.

Acting chairman of governors, Stephanie Clements, said indications from a recent inspector's visit were 'extremely positive' about its efforts to become 'good'.

Asked about the challenges, Mrs Reeve said staff often spent a lot of their holidays doing odd jobs so money could be saved for education.

Jan Croxton, a former vice chairman of governors who still volunteers at the school, said there were things only a small school could do.

She said: 'If a child does have problems, whether emotional or physical, they are picked up much more quickly than if they were in a class of 35. If a child is misbehaving it's put down to being naughty, but here it's 'hang on, maybe there's an underlying problem' and we are able to offer support.

'With a small school you have more individual contact with parents.

'If a child is having a problem, because we know the parents, we are able to discuss things more, and because there's an open door policy, if parents have concerns they are able to discuss them more freely. It's more of an extended family unit.'

From September, the school is inviting children who would normally start in September 2015 to come to reception class for two sessions a week, and is also inviting parents whose children participate in flexi-schooling, where they are at school for part of the week, to register at Brockdish.

Did you go to a small Norfolk school? We would love to hear your memories and see your photographs. Write to Martin George, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE, or email martin.george@archant.co.uk

In tomorrow's EDP: The history of Norfolk's small schools. Plus – What happened to those that closed?