Small primary schools face a particular problem in delivering a high quality of education where staff members have to contend by means of unduly challenging workloads plus small (and perhaps diminishing) enrolments. Small primary schools can face confronts in meeting the educational requirements of the children. The confronting can turn out to be increasingly greater when:
1. There are composite classes by means of further than two age-groups inside most classes. This is likely to occur when there are fewer than four teachers, one of whom will be a teaching principal; plus
2. There are only two teachers, one of whom will have responsibility for four diverse age groups, plus the other three diverse age groups. In addition, one of the two teachers will in addition have a responsibility as a teaching principal. (Ofsted, 2003)
Teachers in small schools in addition face problems of having less scope for professional interaction and mutual hold up. The school is unlikely to offer a wide programme of extra-curricular activities and will have a smaller range of teacher specialism e.g. music. The smaller numbers of children in each year group limit the opportunities for working alongside peers, communal interaction and confront, and participation in extra-curricular activities including team-based knowledge. (Ofsted, 2003)
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Small post-primary schools can face a number of confronts:
1. The school has problem in ensuring the continuing availability of teachers who have adequate dedicated knowledge plus qualifications to permit the school to offer effective teaching and assessment in all areas of the curriculum. There is in addition greater problem in covering absences as teachers engaged to do so have to in addition be subject specialists;
2. Access to professional exchange and peer hold up related to specialism can be further restricted plus often inadequate; (Ofsted, 2003)
3. There might be increased staffing problems, in terms of recruiting and retaining good staff and fewer opportunities for school-based staff development;
4. There is less scope for pupils to advantage as of liaison by means of a broad peer group; plus fewer opportunities for provision of a full programme of extra-curricular activities;
5. The curriculum choices and specialist teaching open to learners might be diminished and this turn out to be even further sensitive at 6th outline level; and
6. Teachers are likely to be required to teach well beyond their specialist subject area.
Tightening school budgets, rising energy costs, and increased standardized testing have increased the pressure on K-12 school administrators who are trying to maintain, or better yet, raise student attainment levels in the face of decreased funding and deteriorating school facilities. Fortunately, there is a solution that alleviates all these concerns: sustainable high presentation buildings. Studies show a direct causal relationship flanked by sustainable high presentation buildings plus higher student attainment. (Ofsted, 2008)
Sustainable schools in addition referred to as green or high presentation schools advantage the outdoor environment, the indoor environment, and the students, teachers, plus administrators who study and work in them. These schools are energy and water efficient and make use of renewable energy plus green materials to the fullest extent probable. They offer environmental advantages by conserving natural resources and reducing pollution and landfill waste. Sustainable schools have in addition proven to be cost neutral or only slightly further expensive in upfront costs compared to traditional construction, and are much less costly to operate over the life of the building. This is vital in times of ever-tightening budgets plus the current climate of large federal and state budget deficits. (Ofsted, 2008)
Studies repeatedly show that better indoor environmental quality in schools results in healthier students and faculty, which in turn results in lower absenteeism and further advances student attainment. Day lighting in schools has in addition been proven to aid student presentation. Sustainable design, by definition, makes use of day lighting principles and assists advance all aspects of indoor environmental quality, thereby preventing the conditions related to sick building syndrome and other building-related illnesses that diminish learning potential.
School districts are simultaneously confronting the challenges of growing enrolments and ballooning energy costs. Add to this the prominence in the novels of mould infestations plus ensuing lawsuits, rising asthma rates, growing concerns regarding fitness levels and other health issues, plus the environmental concerns associated by means of constructing and operating buildings and it is no surprise that green building strategies are becoming an increasingly compelling solution for addressing a host of issues. (Ofsted, 2008)
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School buildings are inextricably tied to the educational attainment of the populations they house, by means of novel research elucidating an ever-growing understanding of the ties flanked by indoor environmental quality and other building issues by means of student presentation. Studies show both qualitatively and quantitatively that highly-efficient, well-maintained buildings deliver further stable plus reduced operating costs along by means of superior learning environments. Given the significant consequences in regards to long term expenses and students' ability to learn, it is vital that school administrators, policy makers and the public understand and seize opportunities to advance student health and presentation through sustainable building design and operation. (Ofsted, 2008)
In regard to primary schools the Department of Education has previously advised that the relevant school authority have to review the position of a primary school when the enrolment falls below 60. In terms of speculation in the substitution of school buildings, the Department has not normally offered speculation where there are fewer than four classrooms required.
The cut-off point for substitution has been when there are 85 or fewer pupils which mean that four teaching spaces are not justified. Primary schools by means of fewer than seven classes often encounter problems. (Ofsted, 2008)
In recent years it has generally been the integrated and Irish-medium sectors which have sought to establish novel schools in response to parental demand, though the criteria apply to all sectors. In respect of the intakes, the minimum numbers required for novel primary schools have operated as in Table 1 below. (Ofsted, 2008)
The Department has therefore considered that for a novel primary school to be sustainable in the longer term plus receive capital funding for permanent accommodation, it have to be projected to reach a minimum enrolment of 140 in urban areas and 105 in rural areas. The Bain Report recommended that, as a minimum, an urban school have to have 140 pupils (or an average of 20 pupils per year group). The minimum enrolment for rural areas have to be 105 (an average of 15 pupils per year group) in recognition of population levels in rural areas. The criteria for speculations in novel primary schools are therefore in line by means of the recommended minimum thresholds and will proceed to apply. (Ofsted, 2008)
These enrolment levels will be the basis for considering novel primary schools and the substitution of existing schools. Therefore a substitution primary school in a rural area will be expected to reach a minimum of 105 pupils, and at least 140 in Belfast and Derry City Council areas. The Department will therefore not normally replace school buildings unless the enrolments are projected to be at least at these levels. However it is in addition recognised that the position at each individual school needs to be considered in the context of local circumstances. Decisions on schools below these levels will need to be taken in the context of area-based plans that identify schools which will be needed for the longer term to serve the local areas. (Sustainable growth Commission, 2007)
Whilst novel schools are one means of providing for identified preferences on the ground, there needs to be a strong expectation of viability for the longer term. There might be alternative means for developing provision in response to local demand devoid of the establishment of a novel school. For example a federated model is an alternative whereby small schools on separate sites might form a single school. As for novel schools, there will be a need to ensure the longer term educational viability of such an approach. (Sustainable growth Commission, 2007)
The criteria recognise that there can be diverse issues facing primary and post-primary schools. It is in addition recognised that there might be greater travel plus transport issues for pupils living in rural communities which are relevant to consideration of rural provision. Schools are often at the heart of rural communities and offer valuable, often scarce, facilities. It is significant that children in rural communities have access to a quality education in cost-effective provision. The Rural Development Council (RDC) in its report striking the Balance has set out an approach to rural proofing of education provision. Rural proofing means having regard to the potential of a policy to impact diversely on rural populations, in comparison by means of those living in urban areas. Proofing might assist identify adjustments which might be made to reflect rural needs and ensure that services are accessible on a fair basis to rural communities. The RDC report examines the range of key policy and communal factors that influence school provision including educational, economic and physical viability of schools and the impacts on the ground of changes in education provision. The Council in addition sets out a range of options to consider in rural areas including collaboration, clustering and federation which might be relevant to delivery in a local area, by means of guiding principles for provision in rural areas. The issues raised in the report and the approach to rural proofing have to prove obliging in considering how to ensure schools are sustainable in rural areas. In this policy, a lower enrolment threshold has been set for primary schools serving rural areas, plus a school accessibility criterion has in addition been included. The policy was assessed against the RDC rural proofing checklist and no adverse impact was identified. (Sustainable growth Commission, 2007)
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Under the Local Management of Schools (LMS) Common Funding Formula (CFF), the level of funding allocated to a school is determined mainly by pupil numbers. In schools by means of declining enrolments, it has turn out to be confronting to live inside the budget allocation and in some cases small schools have built up significant financial deficits. Deficits are not however necessarily a consequence of school size: financial management at the school can itself be a factor. (Sustainable growth Commission, 2007)
As school size reduces, funding calculated on a per pupil basis rises sharply. The Department for Children, Families and Schools found that primary schools by means of flanked by 80 and 100 pupils cost 16% further per-pupil when compared by means of the average across all primary schools. Below 50 pupils the cost per pupil increased substantially. Primary schools by means of fewer than 20 pupils are three times as expensive per-pupil when compared by means of the average. (Sustainable growth Commission, 2007)
Small schools require additional financial hold up if they are to make appropriate curriculum provision for their pupils and so the LMS formula includes elements designed to target their particular needs. A key element of this is the Small Schools Hold up Factor. In 2007/08 a total of £33.4m was distributed through this factor comprising £26.2m (78%) to primary schools and £7.2m (22%) to post-primary schools. In the primary sector, a lump sum of £45.5k was allocated to each school by means of 100 or fewer pupils, tapering to zero at enrolments over 300. This totalled around £15.2m for the 334 schools8 by means of 100 or fewer pupils by means of a further £11m to those by means of enrolments flanked by 101 and 300. In the post-primary sector, schools by means of an enrolment of 200 or fewer received a lump sum maximum of around £128.9k tapering to zero at 551. This totalled around £2.6m for the 20 schools by means of 200 or fewer pupils by means of a further £4.6m to those by means of enrolments flanked by 201 and 550. The main per pupil element inside formula funding is the Age Weighted Pupil Unit (AWPU) funding which, on average, distributes over 80% of all funding.
The Small Schools Hold up Factor targets additional resources towards smaller schools to facilitate the delivery of the curriculum. In addition, in the case of small primary schools, it offers some hold up to principals to release them as of a full time teaching commitment to undertake management plus administrative responsibilities. (Sustainable growth Commission, 2007)
Smaller schools in addition advantage proportionately as of funding under the Teachers' Salary Protection Factor inside formula funded distributions for all schools. Schools by means of up to 30 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers are eligible for compensation where their teaching costs are above the average for their phase (nursery, primary or post-primary). In such cases, a school will receive a compensatory amount which takes account of the number of teachers employed, and the extent to which the school's salary bill is above average. (DFES, 2007)
Compensation is payable at 100% of the above average costs for schools of four teachers or fewer, tapering to zero for schools of 30 teachers. Of the £5.8m distributed to all schools under this formula factor in 2007/08, around £4.7m (80%) went to primary schools, by means of a further £0.2m to nursery schools and £0.9m to post-primary schools. (DFES, 2007)
An inevitable consequence of the hold up offered to small schools is that the LMS per-pupil allocations for small schools are significantly higher than for larger schools. These are set out below in Tables 1 and 2 for primary and post-primary schools respectively.
The costs associated by means of providing additional hold up to smaller schools or schools which are considered non-sustainable inevitably means that there is less funding available to distribute across all schools. When it comes to school budget management, some small schools find it difficult to live inside budget. The present school funding arrangements offer the flexibility for schools to have short-term surpluses or deficits however over time there is a requirement that the budgets remain broadly in balance, so that pupils are advantaging fully as of the allocations made to the schools devoid of having a detrimental impact on the resources available for the wider education sector. (DFES, 2007)
Sustainability Criteria and Indicators:
The characteristics of a sustainable school are widely recognised and have been promoted in Government policy plus guidance and highlighted by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI). They are in addition covered in the Bain Report. There are a number of quantitative and qualitative criteria and indicators linked to consideration of the longer-term viability of a school which are summarised under six headings. These are:-
A. Quality Educational Knowledge - Are there indications that the school will not be able to offer a broad and balanced educational knowledge for the pupils and sustain and realise high standards of educational attainment? Pupils have to be able to have a full set of option choices plus pursue their chosen subjects to the highest level. (DFES, 2007)
The indicators here in addition recognise the needs of teachers.
B. Stable Enrolment Trends - Is the enrolment stable or decreasing year on year, increasing surplus capacity and financial difficulties? In a situation of declining enrolments across many areas, it is confronting for schools to sustain their intake levels. Sustainability considers whether the annual changes have to raise concerns for the longer term.
C. Sound Financial Position - Is the school expected to sustain financial viability or will it have an ongoing budget deficit? (DFES, 2007)
D. Strong Leadership and Management by Boards of Governors and
Principals - Is there evidence of strong leadership and effective management in the school? Absence of effective leadership and management can affect morale and motivation, and contribute to inconsistent standards of attainment plus lead to a lack of direction and accountability. Ineffective teaching can reduce learning opportunities and lead to poor academic attainment. It can lead to pupils' disaffection and pupils' poor attendance and behaviour which can in turn disrupt teaching and divert teaching resources, add to the administration burden, and reduce staff motivation. (DFES, 2007)
E. Accessibility - Is the distance to school and the travel time for pupils reasonable? In the absence of a suitable alternative school in the local area have to the school be retained? Are there suitable transport arrangements flanked by local schools? The Bain Report recommended that maximum travel distances plus times for all pupils have to be established to inform sitting of novel schools. This would need to take account of both the ages of pupils and the needs of the area. (DFES, 2007)
F. Strong links by means of the Community - Are the links and relationships by means of parents and the local community strong? Where poor relationships exist, the standing of the school inside the community can be affected adversely and subsequently generate negative attitudes towards the school and the value that the community places on education. This has to in addition be viewed in the context of overall provision of places in the local area.
It is significant to stress that the intention is not to have a mechanistic application of the criteria plus indicators, however to offer a view of how effectively a school is functioning and of the range of factors affecting its presentation. As such, the criteria cover both structural factors which cannot easily be addressed, such as enrolment levels and accessibility, and operational issues, such as quality of education and excellence of leadership. It is clear that the criteria are inter-related and there is expected to be a significant correlation across sustainability factors, e.g. poor educational presentation might lead to reduced school intake numbers, causing financial pressures, which might lead to staff de-motivation leading to a spiral of increasing problems. Similarly, poor leadership might lead to local parents' reluctance to send their children to the school, again leading to reduced intakes. It might in addition manifest itself in a failure to establish and maintain positive attitudes to learning amongst pupils and a resulting fall in educational presentation. In such circumstances, unless the schools recover their positions plus turn out to be sustainable, the quality of education to their pupils will suffer and they will face further decline and ultimate rationalisation. (DFES, 2007)
Schools have to be considered on a case by case basis taking into account the levels of communal disadvantage, how the school compares to schools of similar characteristics, and any particular circumstances pertaining, e.g. a school might serve an isolated population of one community. There are neither formulae nor weightings attached to the criteria and indicators. The significance of the various factors might vary as of case to case, e.g. accessibility is likely to assume a much greater significance for an isolated rural school than for an urban school. It is entirely reasonable, indeed necessary, that the common goal of a high quality education for all children have to not imply a strictly uniform application of the criteria regardless of circumstances. This underlines the need for transparency in terms of clarity on the reasons for decisions regarding a school's future. (DFES, 2007)
The sustainability criteria and indicators do not determine whether a school have to automatically be considered for closure or amalgamation. They are intended rather to offer an indication of whether action might be required to address an emerging trend. Given that enrolments might fall sharply over a relatively short period, trends over the past three years will offer an early indication that action might be needed. In considering long-term viability, all available information will be used to project future enrolments. Where a small school by means of enrolments under the threshold is required it will not normally be subject to further review on the basis of the enrolment level unless this proceeds to fall. Enrolment is only one of the sustainability criteria and other considerations might in addition apply depending on individual circumstances. Not all schools which record a negative assessment against a criterion might have a cause for concern since there might be reasons of a temporary nature.
However, the key issue have to be to avoid a protracted period of decline due to financial, educational or other factors. (DFES, 2007)
Addressing Sustainability Issues
Sustainability issues might be addressed through increased co-operation plus working by means of other schools particularly where the main issue is affecting a small school by means of declining rolls. The Bain Report identified various forms of association that can offer the opportunities for schools, primary or post primary, to agree collaborative arrangements on a range of curricular and other issues to achieve efficiencies and to secure advancements in the quality of education offered. This might in addition include sharing expertise to hold up pupils by means of Special Educational Needs. Collaboration and sharing might assist sustaining provision in an area devoid of a diminution of a school's ethos. Indeed, such sharing could offer an enhanced learning knowledge. The Bain Report explores practical models including co-location, federation, confederation, extended schools, and a shared campus and considers the potential advantages. The Report suggested a number of questions, neither exhaustive nor necessarily applicable in all circumstances, which might be used to assist assess arrangements for collaboration and sharing. Do the arrangements: (NCSL, 2008)
· Assist to maintain local provision?
· Offer the pupils by means of access to a wider range of educational opportunity?
· Permit the pupils to have good learning knowledge and to achieve high standards?
· Enable human plus material resources to be used further effectively and efficiently?
· Hold up those pupils by means of Special Educational Needs and other barriers to learning?
· Hold up the pastoral care arrangements for pupils
· Reduce capital costs, recurrent costs or both?
· Entail additional costs, and are these justified by the advantages?
· Address the issue of over provision? (NCSL, 2008)
· Result in feasible solutions in which the advantages outweigh the costs, in terms of, for example, timetabling and travel?
· Involve significant, purposeful and regular engagement and interaction in learning by pupils, plus teachers, as of the partnership schools?
· Involve both intra-sector and cross-sector sharing and collaboration?
· Have the confidence and hold up of Governors and parents?
The following paragraphs cover the main forms of working together to address the need for sustainable schools, including amalgamation and various forms of clustering and cooperation, plus which are consistent by means of the Bain Report:
Amalgamation - a novel school is formed to replace two or further schools of similar size coming together and usually means a novel name, uniform etc. (This differs as of a closure where a small school closes and pupils are able to transfer to available larger schools); (NCSL, 2008)
Confederation - where schools of the same or diverse management types work in partnership, exchanging teachers, pupils or both, however by means of each retaining its own principal and Board of Governors. Schools might share specialist facilities and/or administrative staff; Federation - involving small schools combining to form a single school by means of one principal and one Board of Governors however operating on two or further sites;
Co-location - where the proximity of schools facilitates collaboration although each retains its particular ethos and identity. Collaboration might be cross phase (primary and post-primary) or across sectors; plus Shared Campus - where schools retain autonomy however share infrastructure. (NCSL, 2008)
Amalgamations might offer an effective means of addressing the educational and financial sustainability issues facing smaller schools. Access to enhanced premises and facilities, better spread of teacher expertise, and a greater opportunity for teachers to interact by means of their colleagues and pupils by means of their peers, can create the potential to offer enriched educational knowledge for the children and stimulate higher standards of attainment.
The greater inherent stability in a larger school promotes teachers' confidence and security.
While the educational needs of the immediate area have to be a prime objective, there might in addition be financial implications for the whole school system. As well as savings, these options might involve additional cost, particularly at the outset. In each case, a thorough assessment of the available options for addressing sustainability have to be carried out by means of all relevant costs plus advantages examined before a decision is reached. The appraisal process has to comply by means of the standards set out in the Practical Guide to the Green Book published by the Department of Finance and Personnel. This requires that the principles of economic appraisal have to be applied, by means of appropriate and proportionate effort to all decisions and proposals for spending or saving public money, including European Union funds and any other decisions or proposals that involve changes in the use of public resources. The Practical Guide in addition requires that proportionate post-project evaluations be carried out in order that the attainment of advantages can be demonstrated and that lessons are learned which can add to the effectiveness of future decision making. (DCSF, 2008)
In rural areas where it is practical and probable to replace small schools by means of better facilities, this can be a key factor in retaining rural populations plus encouraging rural development. At the core of the issue of sustainability, is the need to find the most effective way of providing significantly advanced educational opportunities for children inside the context of their local and wider community. Amalgamation can offer a positive outcome for rural communities. Effective communication and collaboration, together by means of good leadership and management are central to achieving a positive outcome as of a situation where amalgamation is determined to be the best option. (DCSF, 2008)
A successful rationalisation has to not give rise to undue travel difficulties for pupils. In rural areas, it is in addition essential that the school can offer an effective and significant focus for the community which it serves. Transport implications are a significant factor in calculating the projected financial advantages of any proposed reorganisation in rural areas and the current arrangements already offer for transport assistance to the nearest suitable school, if there is no such school (or no place available at such a school) inside statutory walking distance. This does not mean that the local schools have to remain open whatever the number of pupils on the roll. However, it recognises that there might be relevant reasons to retain a particular small school when it might not be justified in other parts of the country. (QCA, 2009)
Over 1250 schools representing a variety of sectors have developed over the years; however there has been a lack of a consistent planning framework. While there are many excellent schools, there are in addition schools, at both primary and post-primary levels, which are experiencing difficulties. The good quality teaching offered can often be at a professional cost to the teachers. Too many small schools inside the system can in addition result in a drain on the overall education budget, leaving too little resource across the system. (QCA, 2009)
This document sets out six criteria for assisting to assess the significant issue of the viability of schools. They cover the educational knowledge of children, enrolment trends, financial position, school leadership plus management, accessibility, and strength of links to the community. These were in addition identified in the Bain Report. Each of the criteria brings together a number of relevant quantitative and qualitative indicators.
The consideration of sustainability criteria and indicators does not mean that where problems are identified, closure or amalgamation needs to be pursued. However, difficulties by means of one or further factors have to draw attention to the need for a more detailed review and evaluation. Otherwise, a school might gradually decline over a period of years at the expense of children's education. It is significant therefore, that the criteria are monitored closely. It is in addition recognised that local circumstances need to be considered in determining what action might be appropriate e.g. the remoteness of the area might be significant. When considering options such as potential amalgamation or closure options, educational, economic and community issues will need to inform decision-making. There will therefore need to proceed to be a case by case evaluation of the circumstances, to ensure that the children have access to the best educational knowledge probable and attain the highest probable standards.