IN the past, behaviour was seen as a pupil attribute, unconnected with academic achievement. Now, in the chief inspector's annual report, the Office for Standards in Education formally identifies bad behaviour as having a significant negative influence.
By extrapolation good behaviour secures good results. Nowhere has this been more evident than in small schools. Inspection reports emphasise their high behaviour standards, virtual absence of bullying, children's positive attitudes to learning and each other and their happy-family atmosphere.
You would think small schools formed the perfect model for schools elsewhere, not least the ones with that crucial handful, or more, of disruptive pupils now seen to do so much harm all round. The Government and some enterprising local authorities certainly value the model and have worked to keep small schools open.
The drive to cut surplus places and a new system for determining school closures are threatening these models of excellence. In Wales and Scotland severe interpretation of ambivalent local policy threatens rural societies.
The argument is cost, but does not delinquent behaviour have a cost which endures well beyond school years?
Small schools' results, missing from league tables, are invariably above the rest, while Ofsted rates teaching quality and leadership at the top of their scales. They are also making the most rapid improvement of any sector.
It is myopically argued that socio-economic advantage and small classes drive small school success. Tell that to families in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Cumbria, Northumbria, Cornwall and the other places where incomes are well below those of the home counties.
Small schools have humanity of scale. The pupils identify with the job, feel effort worthwhile and achievement possible. Where is the humanity in an infant or first school playground with 200 little bodies milling around anonymously? As deputy of a large primary I saw how children rarely played with more than a handful of other children.
As head of a small village school it was easy to observe the social quality of both work and play where five-year-olds joined 11-year-olds.
We close small schools at our peril. The answer to the behaviour problem is already with us. Keep small schools and create humanity of scale in the rest.
Mervyn Benford is national co-ordinator of the National Association for Small Schools