Schools SHOULD be small!

School protestA couple of linked BBC News reports caught my eye today. The first, that schools are seeing an increase in the amount of spare capacity they have and the second that there have been demonstrations in Shropshire about proposed school closures and amalgamations. Here’s my thoughts…

 

First of all, it’s my fundamental belief that schools should be learning communities. And not just in a trite sense, but in a real sense. Within a community one usually knows or at least knows of pretty much everyone. That’s (just) possible in a school of around 1,000; it’s certainly not possible in a school of 2,000! I would say that an 11-16 school with around 150 students per year (750 in total) would be ideal.

Second, in my experience, bureaucracy increases almost exponentially with the size of the organization. When you get up to 2,000 students there need to be between 100 and 150 members of teaching staff, plus learning support assistants, plus administrative staff, etc. I would submit that this can sometimes lead to the focus being upon data and ‘outputs’ rather than actual learning experiences for each individual student. 🙁

Finally, schools need to be part of and feed back into the local community. They should not dominate the local community as monolithic schools tend to do. Schools should reflect the needs and aspirations of society whilst preserving a link to fundamental truths, ideas and values. They should not, however, dictate these. Smaller schools have more of a symbiotic relationship with the local community, I would say.

What do you think? Should ‘super’ schools be created? Do the ‘improved facilities’ make up for their faceless nature?

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  1. I’m with you completely. There is a movement in the states toward smaller schools, especially for our high schools and middle schools. Elementary schools tend to be smaller and seem to be liked better by their communities than the middle and high schools. There is a sense of family in a smaller school that supports students and keeps them from dropping through the cracks (at least not as easily).

    • I’ve never really been to a big school; I’ve no recollection of the size of the first one I went to – other than the fact I was able to start the term before I was five (in those days it was generally the term after you were five), because it was a new school, and not very full.

      The next one was a 5 class primary – so probably not more than 120 children.

      Then I went to what seemed to me a *huge* school – it was a Convent – with two groups in most years – and classes of perhaps 20 in the Juniors, and 30 in the Seniors.
      It *seemed* massive after the village school!

      The only really “large” school I went to was the Comprehensive that I went to for the 6th form, but, by then, of course, many had already left, and in any case it was a split site school, so only the 5th & 6th forms were on the site that I was on. So again, not many students, albeit most of us were similar ages.

      Even teaching; my first teaching practice was in a 2 class primary (23 kids), and the second in a Middle school – again, with two class entry.

  2. Hear hear! To be true community schools they should be within walking distance for their pupils.

    • Doug, there is a problem on this page! When I tried to use the slash to enter my blog URL, up popped a quick search bar at the bottom. Same thing when I started to type my comment and hit the apostrophe. Hence, the following comment will be (aargh!) ungrammatical:

      My kids school is part of the community. Walking distance from the house. Including a leisure centre, extensively used by the community. Running loads of adult learning sessions. Combining the lessons of some of the older kids with those of the adult learners. The campus is always buzzing – right up to 10 at night, and over the weekends, when several church groups meet on campus. There are also regularly animal shows and sports competitions of one sort or another, while the theatre is extensively used.

      BUT

      There are 3000 kids in the school. An unmanageable size that means that the teachers dont even know each other – let alone the kids! When I talk to my sons tutor about a problem that has arisen in connection with, say, drama, she has to send an email to that teacher, because she has never met her, wouldnt recognise her in the corridor in the unlikely event that they would encounter each other, has no idea where she is usually based. If (which happens often) that teacher isnt IT savvy enough to keep up with emails, the attempt at communication dies on its feet.

      I like the idea of a school being big enough to be able to field a reasonably competitive team for most sports, and to be able to put on a production of a standard that the kids can be proud of. I dont know what sort of number that requires – I would guess at between 600 and 1000, but any bigger than that seems to start generating problems as the cover of anonymity means that certain behaviours arent addressed. On the other hand, any smaller than that, and staffing may becomes a problem, while facilities may be in short supply.

  3. Of course, what I should have said was:

    ‘There’s no reason for most schools NOT to be “primary-sized”, eg. around 200 children.’

    Ooops!

    • Doug,

      I would argue that schools should (and, with networked communications) can) become even smaller than your 750. There’s no reason for most schools to be “primary-sized”, eg. around 200 children.

      If school’s (and I’m using the term to describe a community of learners) worked together more effectively, and weren’t competing for SATS results, they would be able to share specialists and use centralised admin teams. This would allow administration to work at your optimum 750-800 pupil size, with teaching & learning working at an optimum 200 pupil size.

  4. Yes, there’s a tension isn’t there: you want good facilities but then you want community spirit. It’s a difficult one. :s

  5. I totally agree that schools should be small and offer community feedback in lots of ways – I am a community artist who is working with and in loads of school settings – I see the value of both small rural schools and mega-structured town schools with impossible catchment areas – the positive values in both is often a cultural thing that develops in the school – how we/you tap into that is the next story…

  6. I grew up in a small school and I work in a super school. With a small school, you do have that sense of community and children get to be involved in more things. The only concern I have is that in the super schools there tends to be more money and technology to go around. If we could find a way to give the smaller schools the same advantages, I do believe that SS would have a more positve educational outcome.

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