National Association for Small Schools
Mervyn Benford National Co-ordinator
Cloudshill, High Street, Shutford, BANBURY OX15 6PQ Tel: 01295780225 (Fax: 01295 780308)
Chairman: Bill Goodhand Tel: 01400 272623 Business Manager: Brenda Edwards Tel: 01929 463227
8th. May 2003
Dear Councillor Hughes,
You will not be surprised to hear from us since Hermon School is a member of NASS and has been so since the first threat to their future three or more years ago. We advised them then and we are advising them now.
We understand the reasoning behind your Education Department’s proposals but there really is no evidence that a modern building and a larger school bring advantage to pupils in terms of overall standards of learning achieved.
Meanwhile all the evidence, including the latest A-level evidence from Ceredigion, argues that the life and work of small schools is distinctly advantageous to pupils. Johnston in Scotland in the 80s proved the same point when he observed that the most successful pupils in Scottish “Highers” were pupils from remote sparsely populated areas in the highlands and islands where primary school rolls would have been really very small.
In England OFSTED has reported very favourably on the quality of education delivered in the smaller schools.
It is disingenuous and to a degree dishonest to pursue a closure proposals based on arguments of educational advantage.
We understand that you may see financial advantage but the problems you most urgently face are surely the large number of surplus places in your larger schools in urban areas. Hermon last time round was able to demonstrate that a very great number of your unfilled places were in six large schools.
Moreover there is no hard evidence that alleged savings materialise long-term. There may be short-term financial savings from closing a small school but when the longer-term is considered we reach the situation reasoned by, for example, the West Sussex LEA in England three years ago when they declared to all their heads that if they closed all their small schools they could give a one-off payment of £50 to the rest.
It is natural that elected members should look to their paid professional officers for best advice. However, the case against small schools being pursued by Mr. Gerson Davies owns no factual, research-based, evidence-based rationale. It is heavy supposition of a conventional even plausible kind but shorn of evidence.
The community factor is particularly strong in the case of village school closures. It is particularly strong in terms of the Welsh language. Were every LEA in Wales to take the line that Pembrokeshire is taking there would be a dramatic withering of education in the countryside which would prove long-term socially and culturally detrimental to Wales. Whilst we endorse our members’ campaign we are equally concerned at the overall impact of successive closures ( and this would be the third and fourth in your own county in two years,) on the rich fabric of rural Wales.
The Welsh Assembly’s document makes it clear that where a school is delivering good educational standards and popular with parents as well as serving a useful role within its community it should not be closed short of an immensely compelling alternative argument. Following the recent elections to the Assembly its Leader has already affirmed the importance of a school in a village. We believe that Assembly policy on appeal will increasingly recognise this element of the debate.
We believe the Hermon community has argued an overwhelming case for its retention. Many LEAs as part of a developing future strategy are looking ultimately to on-site federations as a way to rationalise resources in rural schools where area schools is an idea as old and unsuccessful as anything that has been tried during the last forty years.
Within the guidelines of the Assembly’s document on rural schools Hermon School arguably should definitely not close and the attraction of a replacement school serving three communities is not potent enough a factor to override the criteria in the Assembly document. Hermon, after all, has no empty places at all. On the contrary it is over-subscribed. It has a local commitment to the future through its nursery provision and is developing an exciting community project which will simply be left stranded without the implicit and positive support a lively local school will bring.