The education of our children is perhaps the single most important aspect of creating a productive and civilised society.
As the saying goes, the schoolchildren of today are the leaders of tomorrow – but only if they are sufficiently supported on their learning journey from early years right through to secondary school and beyond.
Putting education – and children – first is an ethos that was mentioned more than a few times at a meeting of Falkirk Council’s education executive on Tuesday, as members discussed a proposal to “mothball” primary schools which have a roll of under ten pupils.
The report stated an assessment would be carried out to ascertain whether the school roll looks likely to increase above ten over the next two years. If not, then the school would be temporarily closed.
If a school falls into this category then the director of children’s services will arrange to consult with affected parents, parent councils and others to discuss the position with them.
Officers said there were currently two schools in Falkirk area which fell into the category of having rolls of less than ten pupils.
Although no names were mentioned at the meeting, it is known Bothkennar Primary School and Limerigg Primary School have two of the smallest rolls in the council area.
Members agreed to accept the aforementioned criteria proposals for mothballing consideration, but not without a few misgivings.
Councillor James Kerr said: “I understand the reasons and why this may happen, but it’s hard when it’s a small village school and the school is the heart of the village.”
Councillor Laura Murtagh responded: “It’s not about closures – it’s mothballing. This is about the education experience of our children. Yes, it would have a significant impact on the community, but everyone living in that community would prioritise the educational experience of our children who are not able the socialise with their peers or learn from their peers.”
Members heard when a pupil goes to another school the resources and funding allocated to that child will follow them to their new school. There would also be no job losses if a school was mothballed because staff would be transferred to other schools.
It was also stated the mothballed schools could potentially be used as community facilities by local people.
Councillor David Alexander said: “Some schools by nature have a very small intake just because of their location. It cannot be good for a school pupil in a composite class of youngsters aged between four and seven – parents do not like composite education, and understandably so.”
Councillor Adanna McCue said: “This is about our children’s education and ensuring the best education for every single child in our community.”
The report stated while it may seem having fewer pupils in a class would allow a teacher to provide more one-on-one attention, fewer is not always better.
Recent research by the University of London’s Institute of Education found smaller classes do not help children achieve better marks in primary school – contradicting the popular beliefs held by teachers and parents.
Classes with low pupil numbers actually have a number of disadvantages – a smaller class is less likely to represent a diverse cross section of society and the pupils will not benefit from being members of diverse classes like youngsters at larger schools and may not hear viewpoints that differ greatly from their own.
Activities like group discussions or peer to peer learning are much harder to implement in a small class because there are fewer pupils to divide into groups.