Small - Effective & Cheaper

Want to meet up with colleagues and be laughed out of court? Just tell them 348 is an ideal size of secondary school. When Luton eagerly merges infant and junior schools to create primaries of 1000 pupils you can imagine the reaction to the thought that anything 400 would be regarded as viable in terms of secondary education provision. The same arguments have been levelled against small secondaries as primaries... too few teachers, lack of adequate specialist cover, small peer groups, demands on management, wide range of ability, the same horary old set of myths never substantiated but regularly trotted out as negatives.

Yet OFSTED has just told Fairfield High School in Herefordshire that they "found the school outstanding in everything it does." Can anyone beat such a cachet?

We in NASS have argued the case for small-scale, human-scale for decades. We have identified the social strength of closeness to home and community and how that converts into high quality educational outcomes as a reason not just to cherish and exploit what we still have but to justify the belief we need more small schools in our towns and cities where the cost of educational failure far outweighs the cost of small-scale early education.

US evidence from work designed to improve home-school relationships, the kind of factor small schools do so well, has been followed through and the project began to show after ten years a return to the Exchequer of some four dollars for every one spent on the social networking involved. That has now risen to between seven and fifteen dollars. There are massive savings from eradicating the effects of endemic educational and social failure while higher attainment leads to longer in the system, better jobs and higher tax revenues. It really is time we began to assess educational costs through long-term economic perspevctives. Even so, in today's terms. Fairfield is rated as outstanding value for money.

Fairfield High is one school in Herefordshire's Golden Valley pyramid of five schools, the four primaries sending pupils on to Fairfield at 11+ The OFSTED inspectors report it is a highly inclusive school. That is a comment affirming social strength at the heart of the educational process. The school knows its pupils very well and has high expectations. As a result there is significant value added. The five schools regularly meet and share ideas, working closely together from time to time on particular projects.

Outstanding leadership makes a mockery of claims by LEAs and politicians that small schools are difficult to manage. Teaching, curriculum, care and guidance, all outstanding, also relate to that vital concept of humanity of scale against which it is not difficult to contrast the lot of children in those huge comprehensives as "prisoners of process."

In its last OFSTED report Fairfield was particularly praised for those of its science lessons undertaken in classes of 60. Now it us 75, and an example of innovative use of time, space, staff and pupils, the kind of flexibility of lesson organisation and course development we need to see far more in our schools everywhere.

Fairfield is part of a group of ten schools involved in a DfES study of innovation in small secondary schools.

Under the 2008 Herefordshire reorganisation plan this is the only one of four secondary schools to survive but with its comfortable, effective roll of 340 raised to 900. The decision has made even the most hardened professional draw breath and is likely to be bitterly opposed, not least by NASS.