SMALL Church of England village schools - more than half of all
small schools in England - will not survive unless they make
teaching and administrative alliances with neighbouring primaries,
a report for the C of E's Board of Education on the future of the
Church's rural schools has warned.
In a foreword to the report Working Together, the C of
E's chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, wrote: "The
need to offer a broad educational experience whilst facing the
challenge of sustaining experienced leadership under increasing
financial pressure means that the days of the individual autonomous
small school are numbered." He urged more collaboration between
schools, or joining of diocesan multi-academy trusts.
"Reluctance to do this, or a longing for the status quo, will
leave us with a system that was good for yesterday's world, but is
not fit for the purpose in the changed education landscape."
About 65 per cent of the 4443 church primary schools have fewer
than 210 pupils - the level the Government regards as a small
school. Almost 95,000 C of E schools have rolls below 100. The
challenges that they face include a squeeze on funding, difficulty
in attracting staff - particularly head teachers - and providing
the curriculum breadth demanded by enhanced education
Moreover, small governing bodies can struggle to meet the
financial and monitoring responsibilities that they now face, and
too few have taken on the academy status favoured by government
policy, the report says.
The report outlines a collaborative future for church schools in
which they share head teachers, teaching expertise, premises,
administrative and financial services, and expert governors. This
would be achieved by joining diocesan multi-academy trusts, which
would provide the scale needed for interdependence.
The report urges them "to dare to be different". Schools with
limited premises could, for example, teach Key Stage 1 pupils on
one site, Key Stage 2 on another, while a third site could
specialise in children with special educational needs. It also
suggests the use of greater technology in some areas, to provide
the "virtual education" already under way in remote areas of the
The financial viability of rural schools could be strengthened
by widening community use, providing space for a post office or
other services, the report suggests.
As well as viability checklists for school leaders and
governors, the report includes case studies of collaboration
already under way. Among them is the Trinity Federation of three C
of E primary schools in Norfolk, which now shares a single head
teacher and governing body.
Another example is the redevelopment of Bletchingdon C of E
School, in Oxfordshire, cited in a comment on the report by the
Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, who chairs the Board
of Education. The new building is part of a scheme that includes
affordable housing and social amenities. "Partnerships like these
are essential if villages are to retain their schools," Bishop
The report has been widely welcomed by diocesan education
boards. The director of education for the largely rural Lichfield
diocese, Colin Hopkins, said that, without collaboration, budget
pressures and a heavy teaching load on staff would make many
schools unsustainable. Half of Lichfield's 204 schools have fewer
than 210 pupils; 60 have rolls below 100; and 15 have under 50
pupils. The diocese's smallest school, at Longnor, in the
Staffordshire Peak district, has nine pupils. Another, at Flash,
closed after the roll fell to three.
Canon Harold Stephens, who chairs the board of education in
Salisbury diocese, which has 133 small schools - 70 per cent of the
diocesan total - praised the report's forward-thinking steps to
safeguard the future of rural schools.