The attack on small schools begins in Suffolk

Cllr Lisa Chambers
As all small schools know in 2015 a major change to the way schools are funded is going to make hundreds of them unviable overnight. So far the main political steer on this has been to encourage small schools to form partnerships. This was what the Raising the Bar report suggested in Suffolk.

However I have noticed in the past few months that some people are starting to question the desirability of small schools all together.

Recently the Portfolio Holder for Education on Suffolk County Council Lisa Chambers was quoted by the Ipswich Star saying that children's education is more important that the needs of the wider community.

Chambers said:
“I know that will not be what communities want to hear, but the first priority has to be to give children the best possible education.”
She then went on to in one of the characteristic references to her own children to say that she would be concerned if her children were taught in mixed-ability groups, let alone mixed-age class.

This comment alone shows Chambers breathtaking ignorance of primary education. Primary schools of all sizes teach children mainly in mixed ability groups. Anything else would be unusual. Chambers is perhaps basing this comment on her experience of the three tier system locally to her just as Gove bases much of his "policy" on his own personal experience of schools.

What real research there is on school size appears to suggest it actually makes little real difference to educational attainment.

Unfortunately this ill-informed view of small schools is echoed by Ipswich political commentator Paul Geater in the EADT. Under a banner of "small schools not the answer to modern educational needs"  Geater praises Chambers for her political courage in apparently tacking the "problem" of small schools. He suggests are a throwback to the past as if part of some chocolate box world - which presumably starts a few miles outside Ipswich!

Geater again wouldn't send his children to such a school but nobody has asked either Chambers or Geater to remove their children from their larger urban schools. Nobody is suggesting they are shut down or forced to de-merge into small under 100 pupil units.

However both Geater and Chambers are claiming just as Gove did to know better about how our children in rural Suffolk should be educated. Apparently small schools don't fit into this brave new world.

I think there are a few reasons for this. Firstly they are more expensive per pupil and too small to be of interest to the new corporate "educational providers" to take over and put into their academy chains.

Secondly they are harder to "measure" and categorise. Village schools are still local schools for all in a way many urban schools are not taking children of all ability, class and needs. This and their small size which makes measuring them in percentage league tables where each child can be up to 10% of the results makes it hard to "read" them by sitting in Ipswich or Westminster looking at a spreadsheet.

It's true that if Suffolk wants to "move up league tables" it should close its small schools. It won't help the education of the children one bit. In fact it will certainly damage it and the local communities Chambers is so disparaging about.

I find Chambers inability to see that children are an integral part of the small village community deeply concerning. These aren't competing needs. A child needs both a decent education and a supportive community to grow up in. Small villages demonstrably still have that sense of community and our children won't benefit from smashing that up allegedly for their "benefit".

To be honest I am sorry for Paul Geater and Lisa Chambers that their children haven't had the fantasic opportunity of an education in a small Suffolk village primary school. All three of my children have and I would not swap it for anything.

Paul Geater jokes that people are likely to rally to the cause of defending small local schools from closure. He can depend upon it. If Lisa Chambers and Suffolk County Council decide to make enemies of small schools and their communities we will of course come to their defence. Chambers is right about one thing. It's not just about schools and education. For us it is about our entire community and way of life.
Suffolk Politics 6801536273743084223

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