New Ofsted figures show high achievement in schools with fewer than 50 pupils. Helen Ward reports
England's smallest schools snatched more than their share of gold stars from inspectors last year.
Pupils in schools with fewer than 50 pupils are more likely to behave well, achieve well and benefit from a broad curriculum.
They are more likely to employ excellent or good teachers and are the most effective overall, the latest Office for Standards in Education figures show.
Inspectors also found that schools with between 50 and 100 pupils had the highest proportion of poor ratings in all eight categories assessed.
They reported that 73 per cent of very small schools were highly effective compared with only 65 per cent of schools with between 50 and 100 pupils.
The national average was 67 per cent.
Six per cent of very small schools were ineffective; the figure was 8 per cent of schools with between 50 and 100 pupils. Both were slightly worse than the national average of 5 per cent.
Mervyn Benford, national co-ordinator of the National Association for Small Schools, said: "One explanation for the success of very small schools is that they are closer to a natural model of education within the family, with older and younger people working together.
"I don't think anything magical happens at the 50-pupil mark. Schools with 51 to 100 pupils do extremely well."
Mike Carter, vice-chairman of the National Small Schools Forum, said:
"Small schools perceive themselves to have a difficulty in providing an appropriate curriculum, so they make a lot of extra effort. They call on specialist teachers for particular subjects and they have a lot of training for a range of subjects because they co-ordinate several subjects.
"Heads are usually teachers in any school with fewer than 100 pupils so they are very aware of any curriculum needs."
Pam Talbot, head of the 50-pupil Cuddington Church of England school, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, said: "Small schools are a wonderful environment in which to really get to know the child and their family. That involvement took me slightly by surprise when I arrived.
"You are involved with everything that goes on in the village."
Ofsted's main inspection categories are: pupil behaviour, leadership, teaching, effectiveness, pupils' achievement, value for money, improvement since the last inspection and providing an appropriate curriculum.
Inspectors analysed 93 schools with fewer than 50 pupils and 347 schools with between 50 and 100 pupils in 20023.
An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "Rather than trying to attribute size to success, inspection evidence shows schools that do well have a combination of good leadership and management, well-planned lessons and provide a curriculum that excites and interests pupils."
For more information see Ofsted's annual report at www.ofsted.gov.uk