Small Schools Are Assets, Not Liabilities, So Let's Protect Them; EDUCATION WALES Mervyn Benford, of the National Association for Small Schools, Responds to the View Put Forward by Professor David Reynolds That Small Schools Cost a Lot More Than Larger Schools but Probably Do Not Deliver More

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Byline: Mervyn Benford

DAVID REYNOLDS proposes closure of small schools in favour of larger, area-based substitutes.

The National Assembly rural development sub-committee inquiry strongly endorses his views and now he fronts their cause.

Their report is full of fine phrases, important questions and stern procedural cautions but in our 30 years we have often sensed the sub-plot.

The report ignores abundant evidence of small school effectiveness, including Estyn's, but highlights one minor worry about leadership, the same single point then repeated in the name of a professional association.

In order to justify new, larger buildings with fewer heads it ignores four major surveys questioning the "buildings fit for purpose" concept as a contribution to school effectiveness.

Prof Reynolds and the RDI report frown on small schools under 50. They ignore abundant evidence demanding a more intellectually detached, sophisticated economic analysis than the narrow obsession with unit costs. The serious threat arising to many village schools emerges when this report is set to the tune of other parallel events.

In May, David Hawker was reported as saying that schools with fewer than 90 pupils were unviable.

Why 90? It is not an English definition of small, but Welsh.

The Welsh Assembly Government then decided to consult on new school organisation guidance, not publicly, not parents, businessmen, taxpayers, community organisations but only those in the education business.

Some 70% of such interests lie within larger, urban school contexts. Within such perspectives lies the conventional historical claim that small schools somehow drain resources from the rest; not the reality but easy to believe.

The draft consultation document also has fine, bland phrases few would disown but it sets one area for specific proposals - small schools.

It lists every alleged, unproven disadvantage despite the high levels of overall effectiveness throughout the UK and actually steers respondents to a closure conclusion. …