Len Marsh & Small Schools in the City

Len Marsh ArticleIt is with great sadness we report the death of Professor Len Marsh. Len was one of the founders of NAPE in 1980 and its first Chairman. He remained a member and active participant in its work until the end. His many former students and colleagues at Goldsmiths and the Bishop Grosseteste University College will remember with affection and gratitude his outstanding leadership in the field of teacher education. At times students on teaching practice stayed in the homes of the pupils at the school. BG graduates were head-hunted!

We in NASS have consistently remembered his call to arms back in the 1970s when he was working at Goldsmith's College.

Whilst not at the time strictly in our more recent terms, Len clearly saw the advantage of small-scale provision in busy urban areas even then. In subsequent decades urban areas with larger schools have dominated provision to the detriment of smaller schools that have tended to be largely rural- old infant schools and today's nursery schools notwithstanding.

Larger schools have been valued as more effective and anyway cheaper. Neither has proved especially sustainable and NASS has a substantial dossier of the facts upholding such a claim. Without doubt an enduring, long-standing problem still with us- namely the needs of disaffected and disadvantaged pupils and families is endemically an urban problem. Small schools are the only places consistently to have served such children well and the data supports that contention.

Len's visionary concept of a school on every street corner is more than possible. The model is used in many Swedish towns for pre-school education, namely small units within comfortable walking distance but managed by single collective staff team, much as federation works here but by lumping together rural communities miles apart with little collective history or mutual interest. Federation makes far more sense across a square mile of congested housing estate.

We have often mentioned our links with Human Scale education and the campaigns they have run to create small-scale provision in larger places. Under James Wetz' they published a book "Urban Village Schools" promoting his vision of small secondary education units serving large urban estates. The Calouste Gulbenkian Arts Foundation was closely associated with Human Scale's work and sponsored this book. NASS welcomed it but argued that there was no more important place for the small units concept than when children were just starting out on the big educational journey and when attitudes and early competence are shaped long-term. Our campaign "Small Schools in the City" remains a project we wish to see pursued by whatever means possible.

Whenever we mention it to possibly influential decision-makers it is regarded as off-beat and anyway expensive. But it does not need five Headteachers, just marginally more staff anyway a wise investment for younger children, and modern Scandinavian building techniques- functional buildings built from prepared kits.

Our facts dossier reports two recent major studies showing that provided basics are met such as working space, ventilation, sound-proofing, hygiene, you can change a school from a Ford to a Ferrari with little long-term impact on performance (York University for the Design Council included those very words.) Price Waterhouse Cooper told the DSCF as much but they ignored it.

In the mid-80s Oxfordshire's CEO Tim, now Professor Sir Tim Brighouse, asked county architects if they could build a functional school to formal standards but cheaper. They created designs that would have cost half the normal budget for new schools. Nothing happened. Len's passing gives renewed vigour to the argument....a school on every street corner would well address many other major costly social troubles in many urban areas- not always disadvantaged either!

Internet matters

The e-safety of young children remains of deep concern to teachers and parents. Help is at hand to support us in meeting this threat to their upbringing. Your attention is drawn to the schools pages on the website: www.internetmatters.org/schools.

Keeping SATs Results in Proportion

This association of teachers and parents welcomes the recently announced initiative by the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders to publish more comprehensive statements about children's attainments which the media can use as the basis for league tables. At present there is too narrow a focus on test results in the core skills and everyone needs a more rounded picture of children's lives at their schools. SAT's results are little more than snapshots of performance and can be seriously misleading both to parents and to the teachers who will take the children forward in secondary school.

The greatest weakness in national assessment through testing is that the children's results are used by government as a measure of primary school success. This dual use of the data is deeply unfair. It puts schools which undertake the demanding task of teaching the economically poorest children at a major disadvantage. To "expect" all children, regardless of their background, to achieve the same SAT's Level 4 is unrealistic however hard the children and their teachers work. Reaching Level 3 shows that a sound beginning to learning, say progress towards becoming a reader, has been made. Many such children will make good progress in their later years.

The media attach great importance to fluctuations in the percentages of the age group achieving the expected level yet fail to acknowledge the impact on the overall percentage made by the results of children who find it difficult to learn. Test results in 2013 for half a million children showed that 74% of pupils receiving free meals had achieved the expected level or above compared to 87% of all pupils. The pupil premium is helping to narrow the large attainment gap but too slowly.

The government should stop using SAT's results as a measure of primary schools' success. The children's results can, when used alongside more informative details of progress, be very helpful to teachers and parents. But the monitoring of primary schools' standards nationally is best achieved through sampling on the lines developed by the Assessment of Performance Unit in the past. This association supports the government's current re-examination of national sampling. In this way there is no damaging impact on the curriculum and our focus on the children can be more complete

NASS comment: Summer has seen reports to worry all who educate children. The historical performance gap between haves and have-nots is as wide in 'outstanding' schools as 'inadequate.' NASS knows that small schools are the only learning environment consistently to narrow that gap and inspection evidence across the UK confirms it. The factor driving that success will be the far closer sense of partnership between home and school that small-scale, human-scale operation encourages and creates.

The Blair academies were premised on closing that gap but little evidence of success has emerged. Even for very good large schools, with dynamic, visionary leadership, reaching those vital parents and getting them on board gets just more difficult as the numbers grow. In small schools from the start children see parents they love and teachers they trust taking them in the same directions- effort seems worthwhile and achievement possible.

Rhosgoch school in Powys reprieved by minister

A Powys primary school earmarked for closure has had a reprieve after a consultation run by the council was ruled to be flawed. Pupils at Rhosgoch community school faced moving to a new school in September as part of plans to overhaul education in Powys. But Education Minister Leighton Andrews halted the plans- he said consultation should have been better.The school was one of five - Rhosgoch, Ffynnongynydd, Glasbury, Llanigon and Bronllys -threatened with closure in the area as part of plans to reduce surplus places/reduce costs. The minister concluded the consultation was inadequate and so rejected the proposal, "its educational merits notwithstanding."

The schools were the smallest in the area with between 18 and 24 pupils in January 2012. Two new community primary schools were part of the plans. However, 128 people signed a petition opposing the plans and 36 letters were received during a public consultation, raising concerns about problems with larger class sizes and increased travel times to school. The local authority itself has acknowledged that parents were not kept abreast of the changes made to the proposal prior to its publication.

Whitton - £40,000 Donation

The campaign has continued through spring and summer to prevent the closure of another small Powys primary school, Whitton. A meeting was held there on March 10 to discuss the proposed closure. The school was threatened a year earlier but given a reprieve after the Dame Anna Child's charitable trust offered the Council £40,000 for the next three years to bring individual pupil costs down to the Powys average. Over 90 people attended the meeting including AM Kirsty Williams, prospective parliamentary candidate and county councillor Chris Davies, Councillor Hywel Lewis, parents, staff, governors, members of the Trust and concerned people from in and around the village.

Fritwell on Countryfile

Children at Fritwell village primary school in Oxfordshire appeared on the BBC's "Countryfile" on October 19th. Eight children and two staff members joined presenter Matt Baker and experts from the Woodland Trust and Hull University in Wytham Woods near Oxford to learn about the threat to our horse-chestnut trees from invading moths. They enjoyed the day, noting also the onset of autumn, and learned how native parasitic wasps help to combat the invaders.

Note: your editor in September for the second time in ten years saw horse-chestnut trees in flower in Budapest, alongside the conkers and those signs of autumn leaves! Maybe the trees can fight back if global warming is having such effects!

Outstanding Pre-school Group Needs Trustees

A village pre-school playgroup sited in the grounds of the village school and rated "outstanding" in its last Ofsted report needs volunteers to take on Committee and Trustee roles to satisfy Charity Commission regulations- else it will have to close.

Prince George as a Pupil

Chirton School, one of our members, avoided closure by 11 of their pupils writing to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge saying how much they loved their school and inviting them to enrol George as a future pupil. Staff and pupils were surprised to get a letter back saying how impressed the Royal couple were with the school. Each pupil received a personal reply plus a photo of the family. As a result 14 pupils were enrolled into their reception class.