Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Village Schools - Superb or Superfluous?

I despair sometimes, I really do. Does excellence stand for nothing in this country? Is it really all about ‘the bottom line’? I have just received devastating news - for our little community at least. Our village infant school has been earmarked for closure.

This school is one of the key reasons I was prepared to unpick my life once again and move from the south to the north of the country. It is one of my strongest and most positive memories from when we first came to look at the house and the village. In the Autumn it was awarded the highest possible Ofsted inspection result and, as such, was put into the top 10 per cent of primary schools in the WHOLE country. This is a remarkable achievement for a school of 25 pupils. And it is all down to the dedication, vision and plain hard work of its Head and equally dedicated staff – one teacher, one assistant, one secretary – not to mention the strong parental input and board of governors. It featured in an article in the Primary Review just a month or two back about the quality and value to the community of our village schools. Its pupils leave in Year 2 with the abilities of most Year 4s. Thanks to the drive of the Head Teacher and her understanding that to remain open she has to achieve excellence and go for every financial subsidiary being offered, the school offers an incredible range, for such a small school, of ‘add-on activities’ and extra-curricular activities – swimming, ball skills, basketball, gym club, ICT both within the school and at the local secondary school, French club, card club…indeed, when we first visited the school it had more interactive white boards and computers than the private school our eldest daughter had been forced to attend in London (such was the impossibility of getting her into a decent state school in the over-crowded area of the city that we lived in). It was impressive. Put that together with a magnificent setting – clean air, startling views, quiet lane, sheep and cows and a very full programme of school trips and nature activities - and moving up here, rather than my husband weekly commuting, was an obvious decision. And you know what? – it really made me HAPPY that my children could be educated by the State, as they should be able to be, to a very high standard, in an inspiring environment.

But it seems that all that counts for nothing. Irrelevant the fact that they continue to build new housing without increasing the schools and doctors and dentists so that many of the local schools (again, in just the four years since we’ve been here) now have classes of 30 or more. Irrelevant that the village school brings a heartbeat to the ageing community, already stripped of its youth by lack of job prospects and the ever-widening horizons of the modern world. The farming community has virtually been squeezed out of existence, it is now the turn of the young things who, with the tools provided by the excellence of their early education, setting them up for life, are to suffer. Instead of being able to walk to school, we will now have to drive to another, far bigger one, to sit at the back of a huge class and lose all that careful nurturing and attention that creates confident, capable young children, allowing them to make the very best of the next stages in their education. Am I being too idealistic? Or is the local government just being too short-sighted? When money is the issue – they claim the cost of educating each of our children is just too high – it is a hard battle to win. But in the end, you get what you pay for don’t you? Pay peanuts, get monkeys. Is that really what this country needs? Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, to celebrate success, to celebrate excellence and turn a blind eye to the bottom line? When I think how much taxpayers’ money has been thrown away over the years – don’t get me on Iraq, don’t get me on the Greenwich Dome or the London Olympics. All very different areas of expenditure, to be sure, but I can’t help feeling the domestic coffers could be better prioritised.

I am not a political person. I am simply a person who has paid a lot of money to the government over the years and has, frankly, taken very little back out. I am someone who believes in investing in people, in giving everyone the best start possible in life. I just think it is time someone sat up and took a look at the balance and quality of the education in this country and the importance of the village school in maintaining the heart and spirit of the rural communities. Everything is so weighted towards urban environments that in trying to improve the inner city situation while centralising rural education, leading to the sort of overcrowding that is reminiscent of the urban scenario, there is a real danger of chucking the baby out with the bathwater.

18 comments:

UN PEU LOUFOQUE said...

When I trained as a teacher umphety years ago we visited a village school in sussex with something like 20 kids in all. It was fantastic and we were told how important it was to fight for villaeg school survival!! Are they mad, Ummptyhumph years later and they are still under threat!!

ps I was testing cos pipany said she wanted to post a commetn on mine and couldnt..pps |AH Brighton and the lanes adn the dog piss and the charity shops!!

Posie Rosie said...

Totally sympathsise, I do hope you manage to save the school. We have lost a couple of schools here, it is devastating to the community. My children's only has 28 pupils, it is an excellent school, the authorities have a lot to answer for. It is awful they don't look at the school and the children, just cost cutting.

Suffolkmum said...

This has made me so CROSS. We have a tiny village school here, we always seem to live with the sword of damocles hanging over us - it shouldn't be like this! I agree with every word you wrote. It is definite? Fight, fight all the way if not (I'm sure you will anyway). We have a 3-tier system here, where the children stay in their tiny village schools until the end of year 4, then they transfer to middle shcools until end of year 8. Suffolk has recently made the decision to move to a 2-tier system, the fate of our tiny schools is now under threat, though they're currently making reassuring noises. Our school has 60 pupils and, like you, it was one of the main reasons we moved here. I believe passionately in the state system but sometimes I just despair. In these small schools they gain in confidence so much, they are nurtured in such a safe, familiar environment, an ideal launching pad for them before they're ready to move on. My son is quite a gentle, sensitive soul and I know he would have gone under in a big, impersonal place - as it is he is so happy and confident. These are tiny children for goodness sake - let them stay in their communities. The small schools website - can't remember the address but google it - has some interesting information. I'll stop ranting now, but keep us informed.

LittleBrownDog said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. A local school so important, and it's about more than education - schools are the very heart of our communities. We too have a very small village school, and there are constant threats of closure, combining with other schools, etc. etc. It's so sad.

Withy Brook said...

And we are in the middle of it in Northumberland too. Currently we have a three tier system, but 'they' are moving to 2 tiers. I think that sanity may be arriving in places, and it may be two systems. If they remove some of our tiny village schools those tiny mites will have to travel huge distances. As some of you know, I help out a little at our school of about 70 children and the Reception kiddies are absolutley exhausted at the end of the day, without haveing to travel a very long way after school. As it is in the remotest areas, they have to travel quite a long way.
Yes, yes and yes again, the years 1 to 4 do very well in a small school. When they arrive in the middle school, they may be missing some things, but what they HAVE got is far more important. Fight on if at all possible. We will all be behind you.

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Oh makes my blood boil - how short sighted - and why . . . money - surely educating our children is priceless they are after all our future. Discovered yesterday that they are closing down the after school care in our Village. Is it the government's sole intention with all these closure to strangle the life out of all our villages. It does look that way - centralise and control everything.

Her on the Hill said...

Thanks to all of you above for reading and commenting so positively on this blog. The fight is just beginning!

J said...

Hi, sorry to hear your news.
Ok this is what you could do:
start a local campaign
enlist parish, district,county councillors. Enlist vicar and priest (if any in vicinity). Same with NFU if it is serving a rural area, they might put in their two pennorth. Get on the phone to your MP, arrange to meet him at his constituency surgery. Get posters up in local shops. Get together petition (put petition forms in local shops. Stand around a market with a clipboard and a worried smile on a Saturday, etc) Present petition to MP. Cal it a grassroots issue. Tell him this is just the start. There is "outrage". Get him to put pressure on the local education authority. You want the local representatives on your side. Find out who is on the committee who will make final decision. target them. Arrange public meeting at school. Send press releases to local papers. Ring up the newsdesks. Same with local TV station. Create as much noise as humanly possible. Picket council buildings with small children and large banners. Take petition to Downing Street, drop off copies at Department for Education and Gordon Brown. Ring Sunday Times education page editor Sian Griffiths and see if she would take an authored piece from you about what a great school it is and the plight it finds itself in. If she won't try same tack with Daily Telegraph and The Guardian education pages. You say it is "earmarked" for closure. That implies it is a recommendation not a hard and fast decision. That gives you some room for manouevre. Is there another small school closeby it could work with/amalgamate with? Is it a church school if so you have more leverage. Maximise noise. Do not go away. Become a total pain in the butt. Stand as an Independent "Keep our schools open" candidate in any council by-election that comes up. (The general election is quite far away but I don't know your timescale - bear that in mind if the MP isn't helpful.)
All of this requires a huge amount of work of course. You cannot do it alone. You need other parents to feel as strongly as you do. Do they? Are they willing to put time aside to fight it alongside you? Are you willing to jump up and down and make yourself a nuisance. If so, more power to you. Hope that is of some use.
best wishes

wifey said...

can't seem to get my tag on it - that comment is from wifey at www.wifeinthenorth.com

Exmoorjane said...

I am spitting tacks on your behalf. In our old village the school closed. The school in our village here closed about ten years ago. and now the remaining primary school (in the next village) is under threat of amalgamation with two other schools. There was an even madder suggestion last year that children from the middle school should be bussed off the moor to Minehead to a school of 2,000!!! Madness, madness. They don't have a clue. Round here a lot of the problem is second homes - no children to send to the schools....so the population is mainly the elderly retired plus the odd weekenders. Aaaghhhhhhhh. So so sorry to hear this is blighting you. jxx

Eden said...

I can hear what you're saying loud and clear -- the despair and the anger and the pride in your wonderful school. I feel so for you, every child should have what your school offers. It sounds great! I hope you will be able to save the school. It's, as you say, such a heartbeat for the village. It makes me so cross to think that the numbers game might mean its closure especially after it has proved it excellence. Fight, fight, fight it!

Pondside said...

All I can say is that you should base your letter on your blog. You make all the points and your are so eloquent. You're in for a fight, but it sounds as though you're up for it.

countrymousie said...

We have one village primary school in the next village for some 10 villages, all of which have had their schools closed and turned into homes. Both primamy schools that I attended are no more. No one can walk to school anymore can they as they are all about 4/5 miles away. Madness. Keep up the fight.

elizabethm said...

you are so right about the impact on a community of a school. when we bought here we were long past having children in primary school but we looked for a village with a school as our nearest civilisation because it means life and growth. fight it as hard as you can. wasn't there a place in cumbria where the parents raised enough to run the school as a private enterprise? sorry cant remember the name but might be on the net.

Grouse said...

My children went to Chinley School- I shudder to think which yours might be.......we lived in the High Peak for years.
There IS much you can do- the CPRE Council for Protection of Rural England might help. There is a school somewhere where the parents got funding to keep the school open as a private school...the families who couldnt afford fees got grants and the parents did the teaching, so it was just keeping the school building running. Good luck.

H's mum said...

I have to say you have had me in both tears and laughter, we cannot let this happen to our school.

I chose this school because i wanted my H to be safe and happy which i beleive she is in this small rural school.

Everyone mucks in without a thought and ensures that all our children get the best possible start in life.

I have watched my H embrace school life with open arms and blossom with the help and dedication of our leader and her excellent staff.

I know that she enjoys her time in school and enjoys being with all her new friends, as it is a small school she knows them all and they all interact with each other.

This just would not happen at a larger school.

I could not think of sending her to a school with 400+ children and class sizes of 30+.

It seems these days that we are not expected to suceed and if we dare to, theres always someone who wants to p on our bonfire.

Pipany said...

Went through the same thing about fourteen years ago - oh, God, am I That old?!!! My eldest was only little then (and like that makes sense!) and our tiny school was marked for closure. We did everything - fund-raising, news programmes, etc, but to no avail. Such a terrible waste xx

elizabethm said...

you have gone very quiet. hope all is ok.

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