Below is the text of a letter from Ashley Evans, sent to local newspapers and published in the Hebden Bridge Times/Todmorden News on 27 October 2016.
I am mindful of the proposal to close and transfer Cragg Vale School on the basis that its current building is too expensive to repair and maintain. This is despite over £1m being allocated for this purpose some time ago! Views on a number of options have already been gathered, but not on spending the targeted funds on the existing school in its existing location. Clearly there would be benefits to pupils and parents if this option were adopted.
However, I have a broader concern.
There is a danger that this is the ‘thin end of a wedge’ to progressively wipe out Calderdale’s small, rural, village primary schools, implying that they are no longer economically viable and are unable to deliver a ‘good education’ to youngsters. The need to ‘bus’ children or for their parents to transport them is often excluded from economic calculations.
As to quality of education, there is much evidence to show that children in small schools perform better – irrespective of social group – with good behaviour and positive attitudes to life and learning. They avoid the heavy costs of later educational disaffection and failure while their more enduring school performance enhances their career prospects and boosts future tax revenues.
So, instead of looking at pupil unit costs in isolation, councils should evaluate the benefits of smaller schools in wider economic and social terms. Furthermore, what is often forgotten is that the single most important ingredient in the success of the school is the effectiveness of the Head.
Thinking more creatively, there are also effective economies which can be made without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Small schools can work together in varying degrees and ways, from informal joint working and sharing of expertise, through employing specialist staff, to more formal federations with a shared governing body and Executive Head.
We urgently need a more sophisticated analysis of the economics of school size. Small schools bring significant benefits including sustaining rural communities. The Cabinet and the Authority should see small schools as assets, not liabilities. They offer a family-friendly, community-based model for education that is too precious to lose.
Cllr Ashley Evans
Liberal Democrat, Warley Ward