Friday, February 15, 2008

Bigger schools? Isn't a more human scale better both for children, the community and the environment?

Greens have long fought for 'human-scale' approaches to life, not least in education and thus my concern when I read the details of the so-called 'shake-up' of Bristol's primary schools ('Primary schools closure plan', Bristol Evening Post, 15 Feb 2008). Closures, mergers and cuts are likely to be proposed, especially since Councillor Derek Pickup, cabinet councillor for children has said,

"There is a case for a smaller number of schools, each serving larger numbers of children...'

This is a very worrying statement. There is a danger of pupil-adult relationships, vital to learning, suffering in a more impersonal environment. And what about the role played by schools in local community life? And what of the environmental impacts and the road safety aspects of having to travel further to more remote schools, if they are set up? I suspect there are very dubious motives behind wanting to build fewer, bigger schools. Credit to Bristol's first Green Councillor, Southville's Charlie Bolton for questioning the need for and value of bigger schools.

The former head teacher of two large secondary schools, including Cotham, James Wetz, now a researcher and visiting fellow at the University of Bristol's Graduate School of Education, is carrying out a feasibility study on the concept of 'Urban Village Schools'. He was recently quoted in the Evening Post ('School system is failing our children', Feb 11 2008) as saying this of secondary schools,

"If big schools are such a good idea, why are private schools comparatively small in size and why don't they expand - it's because they realise that smaller schools are better."

The same argument certainly applies to primary schools, possibly more so. I dont agree that often with Tory pronouncements on education but on this occasion I think the Conservative Parliamentry Candidate for Bristol North West, Charlotte Leslie, is spot on in her letter 'Super-sized schools are failing our children..' (Bristol Evening Post, Feedback, 15 Feb 2008). Its worth quoting some of it. She says,

'The Government talks a lot about personalised learning. But at the same time, its intent on building supr-size schools which dwarf the individual. And worryingly Bristol City Council wants to make primary schools larger. If we really are to personalise learning we must make schools small enough to be manageable.'

Could not have put it better myself!


  1. Great post.

    I've heard it said that one can define an upper limit for the size of a school - beyond which further increases damage the quality of education - as the number of pupils for which the head teacher can recognise every child and call them by name.

    Certainly less than 2,000, perhaps around 1,000 if schools use a "Housemaster" system to organise the kids, but more likely in the 200-500 range.

  2. The benefits of smaller schools are becoming well known in America. 'Human Scale' education has done some very good work on this. Disappointing that Britain - and Bristol - seem intent on marching on regardless in spite of the facts.


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