Keep schooling on a human scale

5th September 2008 at 01:00

The crunch for the Scilly Isles' federation will come if the governors, under financial pressure, are induced to close one of the smaller sites ("The ferryboat federation", TES, August 29). This has already closed schools in English federations and an attempt is under way in Carmarthenshire. One English authority has virtually insisted its smaller schools federate, while showing an interest in proposals for dedicated school grant arrangements, which would give greater financial freedom and abandon small school staffing protection.

Federation is sold as a generous gesture preserving local facilities. Recruitment problems are cited despite it being common across the sector and whether or not it applies in particular cases. Yet surveys show that the greatest deterrent to small school recruitment is the very uncertainty created by successive closures.

You do not ask Five Islands School the question that matters. Before federation, the small island schools, with handfuls of pupils, received glowing Ofsted reports. Only the larger primary and the secondary gave concern. Could it be that its present success is simply due to what raises performance in any school - ie, the energy, dynamism and vision of its leadership?

Federation may resolve short-term problems - it may even appeal - but it should come with an opt-out facility, long-term site guarantees and restrictions on governor powers to close sites.

The hard evidence of performance shows that small schools in good hands offer effective education. We need more, especially in cities. The excellent work of Human Scale Education, our partners, focuses attention on secondary schools, but the need for small-scale schooling is still more urgent when children first start school.

Mervyn Benford, Information officer, National Association for Small Schools.

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