Small School Good, Big School Bad

There are many things in education that are taken as truisms, often because they’ve been done for a long time and nobody has questioned them. These include; the necessity of homework as a means to consolidate classroom learning and the need for academic testing to determine learning levels (and to keep students sincere about effort in their learning). There’s also one about class sizes (small good, big bad) and a similar one about school sizes.

The arguments in favour of small schools are usually about sensitivity, a sense of belonging, nurturing and caring etc. However, I believe the fundamental flaw here is that the starting assumption is that these things will be lost if the leader (Principal, Head) can’t touch all points personally daily, know and name every student etc.

These arguments are mirrored in this Guardian article about a UK announcement to move to larger schools in many areas:

The guardian – Education – Supersize Schools: How big is too big

These are not dissimilar to the kinds of arguments used by some people in the past to suggest that if a company wants to truly deliver high levels of customer service, then it has to remain small so that the promoter/ leader can handle interaction with every client/ customer personally. However, we’ve seen from the work of people like Tom Peters that it’s perfectly possible to have large companies that deliver excellence consistently and at ground breaking levels that raise the bar for their competitors.

So too, I believe that if the vision and mission are sufficiently inspiring and meaningful, if the leadership are high calibre, committed and dedicated and people development approaches are of the highest order then large schools can be very high quality educational environments.

The potential benefits are many. Students in higher classes can be offered more flexible combinations of subjects to suit their areas of interest. A far broader variety of extra curricular activities can be offered. For the professionals who work in the school growth opportunities are far more likely to be there that suit the career aspirations of educators, without them feeling the need to change schools. There are lots of opportunities for teachers and educators to get leadership accountability and coaching at all levels of their career development. this is highly motivating. Teachers have a broader variety of colleagues from whom to learn and there are far less risks of complacency or group think. I could go on.

In short, small or large, I don’t believe that the size will be a significant determining factor in the quality of a school.

2 Responses

  1. Agree. We have found no significant impact, except one. Small schools are more likely to have greater agreement among the staff on the school culture. Big schools with high levels of agreement need to rely on strong systems that enable staff to frequently revisit vision and values.

    • I agree. Got to keep people close and aligned to the vision and mission when the school is big. I think there are lots of creative ways to do that with all the different stakeholders. Ultimately, you’re right that there may be some people who can’t align. In those circumstances communication needs to be open and ready to acknowledge that – not tolerant of non-aligned action or behaviour.

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