EXPECTING small, rural schools to teach the entire primary curriculum is unrealistic, according to more than half the heads of small schools in Perth and Kinross.
Their comments have surfaced ahead of imminent revised Scottish Executive guidance on environmental studies and advice on how even the smallest schools can implement a full curriculum. Other rural councils may swing in behind the "get real" message about what's possible.
Some 38 per cent of schools in Perth and Kinross are classed as small, an identical percentage to the national figure. But although having fewer than 100 pupils makes the curriculum difficult to deliver, there is no shortage of quality. All 10 small primaries in the authority recently reviewed by HM Inspectors were given top marks for pupil performance and school management.
A best value review by Perth and Kinross, however, shows that a majority of heads are not convinced that they can deliver the entire 5-14 curriculum and all the outcomes at the required levels. Stresses emanate from the dual role of headteacher-teacher, the diversity of teaching in multi-stage composite classes and the need to maintain relationships with parents and the community.
More than 35 per cent agreed they can do the lot but 57 per cent said they cannot. As one head said: "Despite valiant attempts, there are problems addressing all of the 5-14 curriculum."
In contrast, 93 per cent of parents' spokesmen interviewed thought their children were receiving the full curriculum.
Len McConnell, the council's head of quality development, said: "In small schools you have different sets of arrangements and a different set of skills. It's a more complex job for teachers but, as HMI has pointed out, there are fewer management points for action thn in bigger schools." The council is looking to help small schools by improving technology, administrative support and heads' management time.
Among other key findings, nearly half the heads (43 per cent) said they should be free from class teaching if they are to become effective managers and almost all agreed that teachers in small schools need extra classroom support. Classroom assistants and additional administrative help are seen as essential to overcome difficulties relating to the curriculum, professional isolation, health and safety, and inflexible management time.
More than eight out ot 10 heads (86 per cent) favour formal networking while more than six out of 10 (64 per cent) believe their budgets do not allow them to respond to the demands of the curriculum. They cannot, for example, buy large gym items.
Heads remain unsure about running schools collectively with perhaps a senior management team running two or three neighbouring primaries. South Ayrshire and Borders have already experimented with other management models.
Perth and Kinross acknowledges there are substantial extra costs incurred from keeping small schools open. The average cost of its remaining primaries is pound;1,882 per pupil against pound;2,838 in the small schools. Eight schools have fewer than 20 pupils, 17 have between 20 and 50 and 15 have between 51 and 100. The remote Glenlyon primary, with eight pupils, is most expensive - at pound;7,954 per pupil.
Parents, not surprisingly, believe the high costs are justifiable and that schools are an integral part of their community and vital to the economic well-being.
Teachers will soon hear how ministers are planning to cut the complexities of environmental studies - one of the top bugbears in primaries. Learning and