Rural schools: small in size but great in terms of impact

21st September 2012 at 01:00
Scotland excels in this type of schooling, which is why councils should save not shut these excellent institutions

The most enlightened rural peasantry in the world" is how one distinguished 17th-century historian described rural Scots.

Later commentators noted a preponderance of "lads o' pairts" or children from poorer rural backgrounds who rose, through a meritocratic system of rural schooling, to become successful industrialists, entrepreneurs and even prime ministers.

Scotland's rural schools have long been meeting places for pupils from families with a wide range of income levels and are an important factor in the development of what many consider to be a more egalitarian society than that which developed in England.

Today our rural schools continue to provide a superb education, often in the most delightful and stimulating of settings. Smaller school rolls mean that every teacher knows every pupil and parent.

With smaller schools, there is the disadvantage of composite classes with pupils of several different ages being taught in the same classroom by one teacher. But innovative learning and teaching strategies, as well as the imaginative use of new technologies, minimise this. A second drawback is that the move from small primary schools to the "rough and tumble" of large secondaries can be a bit of a shock for rural 11-year-olds although, again, thoughtful induction programmes make the transition as smooth as possible.

But the many advantages arising from the smallness of rural schools outweigh the drawbacks. Virtually every pupil gets picked to lead a class project, to sing in the school choir and to play in a school sports' team. The superb surroundings of many of our rural schools can only be an aid to learning. The close proximity of fields, streams, forests and mountains make pupils natural experts on flora, fauna and traditional ways of doing things.

And the pupils have fun. During one of those hot, sunny days we find difficult to get used to, my daughter and her friends decided to walk home via the burn that runs past their village school. Their uniforms were soaked, and their parents cross, but it was a cheerful sight watching them splash and enjoy the cool water.

Rural schooling is one of the things which Scotland does extremely well, yet takes for granted. Yet despite Scotland's excellence in rural schooling, the number of village schools continues to fall. Argyll and Bute Council's announcement, in 2010, that it wanted to close 26 of its 80 schools, sent shockwaves through all of Scotland's smaller communities. Since then, that particular council has had a rethink but still wants to close too many schools which are small in size but part of a much bigger success.

John Greenlees, Secondary teacher.

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