Number games but pupils' lives

7th December 2007 at 00:00
Fifty-one children on roll last year; 68 this year. What will 2008-9 bring?Theoretically, primary schools should know how many children will be entering the foundation stage and how many are leaving Year 6. In rural environments - where village life centres around the school, church, pub and post office - governors and headteachers are very aware that once lost, the community school is gone forever. Who wants to be chair of the governing body that closes the school?

Parental choice is one of the main factors that can lead to pupil numbers growing or plummeting. One school's fortunes depends on the reputation of all the schools accessible to parents.

Today the existence of a village school rarely depends on local children. Children arrive by bus and taxi. Parents drive at speed along narrow lanes to beat the clock, dropping their offspring at Victorian buildings. Inside, hi-tech classrooms give the headteacher, staff and pupils access to a wealth of educational opportunities.

The headteacher and staff are key draw cards. Governing bodies lose a highly regarded head at their peril.

Having 21 pupils in Year 6 means each child counts for 5 per cent in national tests. As numbers fall, the attainment level of each pupil grows in significance, and so does the school's vulnerability to pupils' off-days.

An upward spiral has its drawbacks, too. Resources follow pupils. In 2003, with 50 pupils on roll, the governing body at our primary had plans drawn for a hall for 65. As I write, it is under construction. This year, funding is for 51, but there are 68 pupils. Next year, funding will be for 68.

When year groups vary between 3 and 20, the ideal number and size of teaching spaces constantly change, as does the number of staff. Governors and the head need to share a vision and a long-term flexible plan to ensure the school maintains momentum.

Carol Woodhouse, Chair of governors, Musbury Primary School in Devon.

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