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An uncertain future for small primary schools in England, new NAHT survey shows

Today (Friday 22 November 2019), school leaders’ union NAHT releases new survey data that reveals that many leaders of England’s 3,614 small primary schools are concerned about their school’s financial future and long-term survival.

Speaking at NAHT’s Primary Schools conference in London today, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, will say: “Small schools are at the heart of our local and rural communities. But as one of the groups hit hardest by budget cuts, for thousands of small schools the future remains uncertain.

“This is a terrible state of affairs when you think about how vital these schools are. In many places, the school is the last public service left standing in their community. The post office, the police station, the library, the community centre have all gone. We cannot afford to allow the school to be next. These schools may be small, but their loss would be incalculable.”

NAHT surveyed leaders of small schools – defined as having fewer than 150 pupils on roll – in October this year and received 365 responses. This represents roughly 10% of small schools in England. *

·         42% of respondents said they were concerned or very concerned about the possibility of closure of their school. A lack of funding was cited as the primary cause for this (84%), followed by low or fluctuating pupil numbers (73%).

·         Less than half (41%) of school leaders surveyed said they received additional funding through the National Funding Formula for being a small school, such as sparsity funding. But even those that did, 84% said it was not enough to provide reasonable budget stability.

·         Small schools are being forced to cut back in crucial areas to make ends meet. 70% have reduced investment in equipment, 67% have cut back on the numbers or hours of teaching assistants, 63% have decreased investment in CPD, and 60% have spent less on building maintenance.

·         Our survey found than 72% of small schools are in rural settings. The majority have senior leadership teams of just 1 or 2, with less than half (46%) having a deputy or assistant head. 59% of school leaders in small schools also have a teaching commitment. 65% of small schools employ fewer than 4 full-time equivalent teachers, and most teachers in small schools (60%) lead on three or more subjects.

James Bowen, NAHT Director of Policy, said: “All schools have suffered as a result of budget cuts, but small schools have been hit particularly hard. These schools play a vital role in their communities and they must be protected. Clearly, current funding arrangements are not working for these schools. We have heard the funding proposals from the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives. All off them are making different promises on funding. All of them need to make sure that if they are in government they put an end to the crazy situation we’re in now where four in ten leaders are worried their school might have to close.”

Judy Shaw, NAHT president and head teacher of a small school in Yorkshire, said: “I lead a small school. It is a warm, friendly, familiar place that sits at the heart of the community. It’s a supportive and sustaining first point of contact for local families. Small, but certainly not insignificant. As I stare at the figures on the spreadsheets in my office however, I can sense the threat.

“To those who say small schools are not viable, I would say they are vital. We must do all we can to make sure that after the General Election they are recognised, supported and funded sufficiently. Every community needs and deserves a local school, within easy reach, that welcomes, teaches, and supports their children. That is what is under threat.”

* This survey is of state-funded, mainstream Primary settings in England only.

Press and Media contacts:

Steven George
NAHT Head of Press and Media
01444 472886
07970 907730

Rose Tremlett 
Senior Press Officer 
07545 354363

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