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Village schools will be 'protected'

PUBLISHED: 13:50 31 January 2008 | UPDATED: 19:35 05 July 2010

EDUCATION bosses have pledged to protect the future of Suffolk's village schools amid fears closures could damage rural communities.

The support comes as Schools Minister Jim Knight urged local authorities not to close rural schools to save money.

EDUCATION bosses have pledged to protect the future of Suffolk's village schools amid fears closures could damage rural communities.

The support comes as Schools Minister Jim Knight urged local authorities not to close rural schools to save money.

Rosalind Turner, Suffolk's director for children and young people, said yesterday they would do everything possible to retain them.

“In a large, rural county like ours, with sizeable towns like Ipswich, Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds, we need different models of school organisation to suit the different areas,” she said.

“We have very successful large secondary and primary schools in some of our towns. We also have successful small schools in our villages, which we will do everything possible to retain.

“There is an appreciation for that and the county is committed to small schools and understands their role and the diversity of education they can provide.”

In March last year, the county council outlined its principles for a review of its school organisation.

The authority has said it will only consider closure of a school when pupil numbers are too small to provide adequate education and it is no longer financially viable.

It supports the idea of federations between schools when their individual viability might be at risk.

A conference, chaired by Garry Deeks, headteacher at Wilby Primary School, near Eye, was held earlier this week to discuss how small schools could be best maintained.

Martin Goold, Suffolk chairman of the National Union of Teachers, said the key to retaining village schools was money.

“We recognise that unit costs per pupil are higher, sometimes much higher, in small schools than in the larger town schools where there are economies of scale, but this can also mean larger classes and less individual attention,” he said.

“We support the principle of 'federation' of schools where there are two or three schools which could usefully merge their administration, staffing and leadership, while maintaining a separate school site in each village.

“The key to retaining our village schools is, as ever, money. If federation is to work well, there needs to be some 'pump priming' money to help set up the new collaborative structures, rather than just relying on potential savings in management costs. Norfolk has done this and their federations appear to be lasting well.”

Mr Knight is writing to councils to remind them of the “presumption” under recent laws that rural schools will not be closed.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “They must preserve, as a top priority, successful and popular schools.”

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