“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”George Eliot
We have just passed the Equinox and clocks spring forward this weekend. The year is racing by and this week we’ve enjoyed musicals in both the Junior and Senior Schools. Congratulations to all involved with performing and thanks to the staff who have put so much of their time into the preparation. The opportunity to challenge oneself though performance is a great learning experience.
At this time we begin to learn which pupils will be staying with us for next year and those who are moving on. Every headteacher believes that the school they serve is unique, in the BSP’s case there are features that, whilst they don’t necessarily qualify us to be called unique, do make us notable. We are the only school that I’ve worked in that has a rolling admissions programme, the average stay at the school is a little over three years for pupils – also another feature of note. Whilst I can’t predict exactly how many pupils we will welcome back next year, I do know there will be year groups of different sizes. We tailor our offer to reflect this variation, new classes may be established, new sets added, and we always look carefully at the number of pupils per set. This year the average set size at the BSP is 16.7 in Years 1-9. This is, I believe, a good number, enough for debate and discussion, enough for a variety of views to exist and still enough for a teacher to be able to provide individual attention.
Many headteachers that I speak with talk of growing their numbers, increasing the market share and there is a developing tendency for management speak to creep from commerce to classroom. Often bigger is equated with superior. Perhaps I’m a dinosaur but I am a firm believer that smaller schools are better places to learn. Why? Increased personalisation, better learning relationships between teachers and their pupils and above all in a small school the pupils must “have a go”, there isn’t the same place to hide that there is in a larger school. Take our school productions as an example – I can see performers on stage or in the chorus who will also be playing netball for the school in a week or two. I can see other pupils being given significant responsibilities such as running sound and light in a way that might not be the same if there were more pupils vying for the opportunity. Exposure to a wide range of activities and being in a class where you have to speak up and play a role has to lead to greater levels of character development and intellectual challenge. Easier to do in a small school.
Our young people will go on to play significant roles in their communities. We don’t know what they will do, but we are beginning to see who they will be. Learning how to manage relations in small communities, where difference has to be understood and compromise rather than avoidance is the way to flourish, will develop skills for later life. Similarly, building the confidence to work outside of their comfort zone, to “give it a try” will serve the pupils well as they decide on what the future holds for them.