Small Schools Matter – Our Fight To Keep Ferndale Infants School Open

The Labour led council in the Rhondda have proposed to close Ferndale Infants School and I am not happy! This post is a slight digress from my usual business but it is an issue that will impact my children considerably and therefore will impact on the “contented family.”

THE CLOSURE OF FERNDALE INFANTS SCHOOL.

Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru has given her support to the parents of FIS

Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru has given her support to the parents of FIS

My eldest daughter is in year 1 and her sister has just started nursery. I dream of my 10 month old following in their footsteps but the council have other ideas.

It’s only a small school with 66 pupils and there is a good primary school in the same village. With the issue of surplus places and funding cuts facing all services, the closure of this little school is insignificant. Right?

Wrong!

It’s hard to describe the emotion I felt when I first heard this news. Every parent makes an informed choice about their child’s schooling. Children spend so long in school that the potential impact, both positive and negative is huge. When I drop my children at school I need to feel safe in the knowledge that they will be secure, cared for and educated.

Ferndale Infants was the best choice for my children; I loved the fact that in this small school the head teacher knew every child and family by name. I loved that it had such a warm and welcoming atmosphere. I loved that the staff were always approachable, professional and nurturing over the little ones in their care.

My middle child only started in January. I was so nervous about her starting as she had spent the 3 years of her life hiding under my skirt (well she would have done if I wore skirts). She has completely surpassed all my expectations and now loves every moment she spends there. I am so proud of her but it’s also down to the hard work, persistence and kind hands of the nursery staff. I will be forever grateful to them for how they have looked after my baby.

So it’s hard to take the news that the school I wanted all my children to go to will close but what is most insulting is the council is trying to sell this to the public by telling us they are “improving Ferndale Education.”

Improving?

For who exactly?

Cllr Eudine Hanagan tells us bigger schools are better

Cllr Eudine Hanagan tells us bigger schools are better

It certainly won’t improve for my daughters or the children at the Primary School they will be invading.  Councillor Eudine Hanagan arrogantly told us that bigger schools are good for education because they encourage competition!

This is news to me. I always thought that small schools and classes were better for kids and I suspect that this argument is just a convenient way to make out the they are putting the children’s education first and not the depth of their own pockets!

So I decided to do some digging.

Small Schools – The Facts

In 2000 OFSTED concluded that “the proportions of pupils achieving levels 2 and 4 at the end of key stages 1 and 2 respectively are significantly higher in small schools compared to other schools.”

In the same report OFSTED state; “The good ethos of the great majority of small schools is one of their strengths. Inspections invariably describe very good provision for the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils.”

A 2007 OFTED report debunks these claims again clarifying that the size of the school is not as important as the “the leadership and management of the individual schools”

When the attainment data was actually compared by the DFES in 2005/2005 there is evidence that small schools “provide very high educational standards.”

Are Infant schools bad for education?

Chris Bryant, our local MP made the compelling point that when children attend an infant school they have to go through a transition process at 7 which in a deprived area like the Rhondda valley is detrimental to their education success. From this we can assume that the Rhondda is planning to shut many more schools in the coming years and replace them with all-through super schools for kids aged from 3 – 19.

Chris Bryant - The Labour MP for the Rhondda

Chris Bryant – The Labour MP for the Rhondda

Initially the concern of transition sounds plausible but I cannot fathom how it can be blamed for poor academic results at 16 when there are so many other issues impacting families in poorer areas. The research would have to be quite extensive to come to such a conclusion. There is a problem though, it isn’t.

The only piece of evidence I have been directed to is from the House Of Commons Library, now granted Chris Bryant was really helpful trying to locate this data but sadly for the council the research is hardly illuminating. In fact it finishes by highlighting its own major flaw; with only 141 all-through schools (for children aged 3 – 19) in England, many of which are not at full capacity, there is simply not enough evidence to draw any real conclusions. The academic achievement of the 16 year olds who have attended these schools has simply not been measured yet and therefore cannot be realistically used as a reason to close down other smaller schools.

“Given the small number of schools involved, and the lack of outcome data for children at relevant key stages across all these schools it is not possible to compare educational outcomes for this group.”

Moreover within the document it states that transition remains an issue in an all-through school but the issues are just different. So in other words the problem that these super schools apparently aim to eradicate is still there.

Even if they could somehow banish transition forever, I don’t understand why it is  such a bad thing anyway. Surely if children never experience change how can they prepare effectively for adult life? Life is a series of transitions, moving house, changing jobs, getting married, having children. If we do not learn at an early age how to cope with change then how do we build up resilience to it?

It’s a numbers game

Now I know that the proposed school for my children to go to isn’t a bad school at all in fact it has very good inspection reports but surely putting more children into it without the proper plans in place (there appear to be none other than some hazy plans for future renovation) will impact negatively on all the children of Ferndale.

The problem is the council are lying about the numbers. Maybe they don’t think we care enough to count. Maybe they don’t think the people of the Rhondda can count. Maybe they didn’t even bother to count!

We have counted though and the numbers don’t add up!

It stated in the original consultation document that the Primary School currently has 315 pupil capacity plus 45 nursery places. The plans for renovation will apparently increase capacity to 360. But in the cabinet meeting held on January the 19th it was announced that they wouldn’t even be bothering to do the work till next year – after Ferndale Infants had been closed.

Firstly this new information was released after the public consultation was closed.

Secondly without this renovation work the primary school simply does not have the capacity to take the extra children.

Is this stopping them? Apparently not.

What do the kids think?

During the consultation period the children on the school council were asked what they thought of the proposals and one child told them they were scared! This is written in black and white for the council to see in their documentation. How can they see this and not understand the gravity of what they are doing. It may be a small school, it may seem insignificant to them but to us, to our children, to our community, it is part of our heart and soul and I will be dammed if they think they are taking it without a fight.

The consultation report did document another response from a 5 year old who summed up the situation perfectly in my opinion…

“Our school is the best, the council are stupid.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

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Parents of Ferndale Infants School with Independent Phil Howe who has supported our cause

Parents of Ferndale Infants School with Independent Phil Howe who has supported our cause

 

Sources

http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/overview/table05.asp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_schools_movement

http://www.grauerschool.com/about/

http://www.smallschools.org.uk/images/pdf/we-need-more-small-schools-jan-2015.pdf

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/schools/the-only-school-in-the-village-why-are-small-primaries-closing-down-2270635.html

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