Sometimes big isn’t beautiful

I’ve been going through the £220m Building Our Future schools plan with teachers and one message keeps coming through loud and clear – some of the planned schools will have too many pupils.

To recap, Hull’s 14 secondary schools will be cut to 12, with East Hull going from 4 to 3 schools, with Andrew Marvell, Malet Lambert expanding to 1500 pupils and a Archbishop Thurston, which currently has 873 pupils, being replaced by a 1,500 11-19 secondary and sixth form.

I always felt Bransholme High was too big when I was there in the 80s (Winifred Holtby, now has 1,552 pupils and even that’s being cut to 1,300 under the new plan.)

Don’t take my word for it. A report by the Institute of Education, “Secondary school size: a systematic review” found that achievement increases as school size increases up to approximately 1,200 (for 11-16 schools.) Above 1,200, and achievement decreases as size increases. The bigger they become, the worse the results.

It can be more pronounced in schools in challenging areas like East Hull. Studies have found that children can start to disengage from school as young as nine, so secondary teachers face an uphill struggle, especially when half the kids are on free school meals. So it’s vital these children get as much support as they can and that theyr’e not allowed to slip through the net.

Last week’s report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation proved children who grow up in poverty and disadvantage are less likely to do well at school – pupils with free school meals are half as likely to get 5 good GCSEs than the rest of the kids in the class.

The challenge is to engage with them and to make education interesting and relevant, so they don’t feel, as the report says, “powerless as learners.” After school activities help as it helps them to engage with learning in a less formal environment.

But more importantly they needed targeted help and support – from teachers and parents. They’re less likely to get that in 1500+ schools. Steve Brady, Mary Glew and the Labour Group know this and that’s why they’re suggesting East Hull should have two smaller schools of 800.

But it’s not too late for you to have your say. You’ll find the Building Our Future consultation site here so leave your comments.


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