Review into small schools in Norfolk

Parents campaigned to try to save King George VI Primary school in Great Bircham when pupils were transferred to Docking earlier this year
Parents campaigned to try to save King George VI Primary school in Great Bircham when pupils were transferred to Docking earlier this year
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A formal consultation has begun over the closure of Great Bircham’s primary school and the rest of the county’s small schools are under review.

In March, the 14 pupils left on roll at King George VI Primary School, in Great Bircham, were moved to Docking school as a temporary measure.

Now Norfolk County Council is consulting on plans to formally close the school and has formed a vision for other small schools.

Claire King, who was among parents who tried to save Great Bircham’s school, said: “It isn’t a consultation. If it were they should have had it before they moved our children.”

It is the county council’s vision that all schools should be grouped to create pupil numbers of at least 250 under one executive head teacher.

A report setting out the vision has been presented to members of the children’s services committee, which meets on Tuesday.

It said the model may require “closure or new building”.

It said: “A problem remains for Norfolk in that there are too many schools and too many small schools in particular. Recruiting and retaining staff at all levels is challenging.”

It said groups of schools, where there is more chance of career development, can attract and retain staff and deal with staff turnover more effectively. They can also benefit from economies of scale and shared, strong leadership.

It acknowledged that small schools can be seen as more welcoming but questioned whether children could be effectively educated with six year groups in one class.

Last autumn all schools with less than 50 pupils were asked to demonstrate how they could have a viable future.

Schools in that bracket include Sedgeford, Ten Mile Bank, Great Massingham, Brancaster, Wormegay, Walpole Highway, Terrington St John and Tilney All saints.

All of them have already formed partnerships with at least one other small school, but will need to go further to achieve the requirements

In February, Sarah Bocking, headteacher of Brancaster Primary School, became executive headteacher of both it and Sedgeford Primary School. Each school has less than 40 pupils and work is already under way to further the link with Docking Primary School.

Mrs Bocking said: “All of my headships have been at small schools and you always have an axe hovering in the background.

“I think it’s tragic to close small schools entirely if they are fit for purpose and serving their community.”

Mrs Bocking said she was cautiously optimistic for the future of her own schools and believed partnership working was a positive way forward for small schools. She believes mixed age groups in one class can be a positive thing.