Small schools

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OFSTED and the National Association for Small Schools (NASS) have defined small schools as schools with less than 100 pupils. Those with less than 50 are described by these bodies as ‘very small’. This should not however be taken rigidly as other organizations include some schools with up to 200 pupils, an example of this being The National Small Schools Forum (NSSF).

Typical characteristics of small schools are that the head teacher also acts in a classroom teacher capacity and the class sizes are much smaller.

Small schools tend to be in rural areas and are often the only means of educating the local children. In the UK the vast majority of small schools are in the Highlands, Cumbria, Rural Wales, Devon and Cornwall. 800 closures have occurred between 1992 and 2002 and there is a constant threat of closure. When small schools close the pupils are transported to another school in the area. Often this can be quite some distance and very disruptive for the pupils education.

There are many benefits to small schools; unfortunately, when these are compared to the economic viability of such schools there is a struggle between effectiveness and viability.

The strengths of small schools are extensive. The national DFES statistics show that “schools with fewer than 50 pupils are more likely to have high standards of pupil behavior, high attainment and achievement as well as a broad and varied curriculum” ( visited 5th July 05)

In 1993 a study funded by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, suggested that small schools afford greater opportunities for innovative curriculum work and specialist teaching ( visited 5th July 05).

In an article on small schools in the Guardian newspaper it was stated that:

“In that kind of environment, they are able to go at a much higher level, small schools work. You have smaller class sizes, individual attention. It is the educational ideal.” (Scott 2004)

Small schools are attempting to combat the economic cost by using their facilities to serve wider community needs. For example, schools can be used to teach adult education evening classes in rural areas or can be used as a dual facility for the community.

Steiner schools afford some of the benefits of small schools, they demonstrate many of the positive qualities of small schools.

There are many prejudices and assumptions made against small schools, examples include the notion that mixed age groups and mixed ability groups disadvantage pupils. This has not been proved and SAT results show better outcomes from smaller schools.

Small schools are also commended for children with special needs. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) often use small schools for Special Educational Needs (SEN) pupils.

The relative disadvantages of small schools lie within the economic viability. It is demonstrated on the Teachernet website that the cost per pupil increases as the school size falls. Primary schools with between 80 and 100 pupils cost 16% more per pupil. Primary schools with fewer than 20 pupils are three times as expensive per pupil. There are two main reasons why small schools cost more per pupil to run: They have a greater proportion of fixed costs and they tie up more of the local education resources in unspent balances.

A further concern with small schools is the social impact this may have on a child when they move from a very safe environment in Key Stage 1 and 2, knowing every person in the school, to being one of 100’s at Key Stage 3 in a secondary school. This could be very daunting and if there have underdeveloped social skills this may affect the pupils’ academic capabilities if they are not able to cope or communicate effectively.


National Association for Small Schools (2005) Newsletter June 05. (visited 3-July-05)

National small schools forum, (visited 4-July-05).

Scott, Kirsty (2004) Battle for hearts and minds, The Guardian, May 4th 2004.,,1208614,00.html (visited 4-July-05)

Teachernet, High cost of small schools, (visited 4-July-05)

Useful links

Human Scale Education
This site gives News and information about alternatives in education and a holistic approach to learning. It also provides advice and information on small schools. (visited 19-July-05)

National Association for Small Schools (NASS)
This is a campaigning organization. It advises and supports small schools.
Http:// (visited 19-July-05)

National Small Schools Forum (NSSF)
This is “….a member organization which, with an emphasis on its FORUM, seeks to promote high quality education in small schools with primary in the UK” (visited 19-July-05)

Small Schools Project
This is a resource site for parents, teachers, principles, administrators and community members who are either part of a small school or who would like to start one. (visited 19-July-05)