The strategic and controversial changes at West Burton CofE School should not be implemented without proper consultation and detailed planning, Aysgarth and District parish council agreed at its meeting on June 30.
Fran Cartwright, whose daughter attends the school, told the councillors that a two-day trial had begun that week which involved bussing children aged between seven and 11 to Askrigg VC school for lessons. The parents had been told that this new system might begin in September now that West Burton school has become part of the BAWB Federation of schools which already included Bainbridge CofE and Askrigg.
Councillor David Pointon stated: “I am not happy with this situation because the children of this area deserve the best education that can be provided. And this is not the way to do it and that’s been well proved.”
He explained that there had been plenty of research to show that shipping children backwards and forwards had a negative impact upon them. Jason and Fran Cartwright said that the proposal would put all three schools at risk as parents would prefer to send their children to school at Leyburn instead.
It was pointed out that bussing children from West Burton to Askrigg would add an extra half-an-hour to the school day. “For little children that is a lot,” commented District Councillor Carolyn Thornton-Berry.
She attended the open forum meeting at the school on June 22 and reported: “What has really upset everybody was that this was produced almost as a fait accompli.”
Both she and Mr and Mrs Cartwright said that the parents could have been consulted much earlier. A key issue was that both Bainbridge and Askrigg schools now have financial deficits and it was expected that West Burton school would be in the red by April 2019.
Mrs Cartwright commented: “I can’t see how you can’t see a deficit coming.” Her husband said the parents would have organised fund raising events if they had known.
“We don’t have a problem with sharing resources,” Mrs Cartwright added. “What we [want] is our children being in a school which is sustainable and going forward.” She said the proposal would mean that a maximum of ten children would be taught at West Burton making it the smallest in the federation and, therefore, the most vulnerable.
“My daughter is having a fabulous education at West Burton and we have never before had cause to complain. And then this bombshell has been dropped,” Mrs Cartwright said.
Councillor Alison Sayer stated that West Burton school had always provided an excellent education. She had been a governor for 12 years and chair of the governors for eight of those. She spoke of her frustration that at the open forum meeting the executive head teacher, Charlotte Harper, did not appear to listen to the views of the parents.
Mrs Cartwright stated: “It doesn’t feel as if there has been a fair process. The process has been appalling.” Her husband said: “I believe that a strategic head who doesn’t teach should put forward more than one proposal.
“When we asked the head what the cost of transport would be she didn’t know,” he added. Parents have checked and found it could cost between £60 and £100 a day to bus children to and from Askrigg school.
At the open forum meeting 190 parents signed a petition which stated that they were in complete opposition to the proposal made by Miss Harper and the BAWB Federation governors to move class 2 (Key Stage 2 – ages 7-11) from West Burton to Askrigg as of September 2016.
Instead they supported an alternative solution which would address the difficulties faced by the federation whilst keeping a full range of KS2 education at both West Burton and Askrigg schools. (See their explanatory letter below)
Their alternative solution would mean continuing to have mixed-aged classes at West Burton. Cllr Sayer said that this was the norm in the Dales even though Miss Harper seemed to be against these.
The parish council agreed to write to the BAWB federation and to North Yorkshire County Council concerning the proposed changes.
NB – at the extraordinary meeting of the Federation Governors on June 22 it was decided to leave things as they are until Christmas and to make a decision in October which will be effective from January 2017.
THE PARENTS’ ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION:
Create a single KS2 class in Askrigg and retain the KS2 class in West Burton
- It’s cheaper – no transport costs, saving an estimated £11,000 per year compared to the original proposal of moving WB children to Askrigg1.
- No disruption – no children move schools, siblings at West Burton stay together throughout primary school
- No further recruitment required (see below)
- Maintains full KS2 range at both schools
- All children remain with current classmates
- No changes to length of school day for anyone
- No risk caused by transporting children across the dale
- Social and academic benefits of mixed age range for all in federation, endorsed by WB’s latest Ofsted report and valued by both children and parents (see below)
- No effect on uniform policy
- Mitigates against further disruption at Askrigg with falling numbers making the current smaller age range classes untenable
- Safeguards the future of a school in West Burton
West Burton KS2 – one teacher and TA
Askrigg KS2 – one teacher and two TAs
Identical to current staffing proposal – two classes, two teachers, three TAs.
Support for mixed age classes
We understand that teaching classes with a range of years is seen as challenging for the teachers within the federation. However, West Burton has an excellent record of succeeding in catering for a mixed age class. From West Burton’s latest Ofsted report (which was produced in 2013 when the school had significantly larger class sizes than it does today):
“Teaching is good because of the way staff carefully plan lessons which cater exceedingly well for the wide age range within each class.”
This is even highlighted in the report as one of two key strengths in teaching at the school:
“There are many strengths in the teaching. In particular, the very positive relationships between staff and pupils, and the planning of activities which cater extremely well for different age groups and abilities in each class.”
Current pupils and their parents highly value the opportunity to be taught in a mixed age class, as heard at the public meeting, they feel this provides greater opportunity for personal and social development and is enjoyable. For example, an only child has the opportunity to make friends with and learn how to communicate effectively with children of different ages – something he or she does not have the opportunity to do at home.
This is backed up by the Ofsted report showing that pupils and parents are confident in the teaching being of an appropriate level:
“Pupils say that they enjoy their lessons because they are interesting and their work is usually set at about the right level, not too hard and not too difficult. Parents are very appreciative of the good quality teaching that they receive.”
Research shows that when a school is good at this (as West Burton clearly is), there is no adverse effect on academic achievement. In fact, it can improve academic achievement:
“The research supporting mixed-age classrooms indicates that academic achievement is the same as, or better than, the academic achievement of children in same-grade classrooms. Mixed-age classrooms do not negatively affect student achievement, and students in these classrooms have significantly more positive attitudes toward school, themselves, and others (Stone, 1998; Veenman, 1996). “2
Mixed age groupings usually mean the children keep the same teacher each year, allowing a much closer relationship to develop. Amongst a list of many other benefits, this research paper states that:
“Children have almost an extra month of teaching time, because the teacher does not have to spend the early weeks in the school year getting to know each child.”
Mixed age groups are common in small schools in the UK and can work very successfully, as they do currently in West Burton. Here are some of the benefits experienced by a school in rural Gloucestershire:
“Children benefit in many ways from the opportunity to become an ‘expert’ for the younger children and a positive role model which the younger children often aspire to. This ‘vertical’ grouping often nurtures thinking & problem solving skills, vocabulary & social competences. There is often a greater sense of cooperation and opportunities to work with a wider circle of peers. The children usually have several years with the same teacher and this provides a perfect opportunity for the teacher to develop a deeper understanding of a child’s needs and strengths and is therefore in a stronger position to better support the child’s learning.
In turn the child knows their teacher well, understands the expectations they have, and can build upon a level of trust that encourages them to ‘have a go’ or try something new.”3
For further support for small rural schools, we can look to the National Association for Small Schools, which says that:
“Small schools represent a wholesome and effective model of excellence in both academic achievement and personal development.”4
To summarise, a mixed age KS2 class is something that is endorsed by parents and children of West Burton School and that both experience and academic research have shown to have social, developmental and academic benefits.
Maintenance of a school in West Burton
West Burton School is at the heart of West Burton as a village. It contributes to the reasons new families come to the area and to why existing ones remain. Without it, we compound the problem of a changing, aging demographic in the area, giving families little reason to move in and play a role in our community. Inevitably, no village school will result in increasing the rate of declining numbers within the federation as a whole and thus increasing the deficit.
The latest Ofsted report says:
“The very strong links with parents, the church and the local community ensure that the school is an important part of the village.”
Even with the better-case scenario of half the school remaining open to pupils and half taught at Askrigg, the number of pupils will fall with parents preferring to send children elsewhere rather than attend West Burton for KS1 only. This is a real threat to the school if the original proposal goes ahead. Parents are already exploring other options for their children for September 2016.
Further support for numbers at West Burton
We also strongly favour, and would support in any way possible, an awareness campaign to attract children from Leyburn and surrounding areas. As suggested at the public meeting, many parents in this area do not realise that sending children to West Burton is an option. With Leyburn Primary at capacity, now is an ideal time to promote West Burton to those parents.
We also support the idea of exploring whether the official catchment area can be extended. West Burton School could explore the idea of contributing to transport costs for children outside of the current catchment if it is not funded centrally.
|Current Proposal moving KS2 to Askrigg||Alternative proposal – one KS2 class at each Askrigg and WB|
|No of children moving school from current location||20||0|
|Additional cost to Federation||transport costs||None|
|Changes to school day||Day lengthened for WB children||No change|
|Health and Safety risk||Increased risk – due to children travelling across the dale twice a day||No increase|
|No of KS2 children in WB||0||20|
|No of KS2 children in Askrigg||49||29|
|Total in WB||10||30|
|Total in Askrigg||49||29|
Note: Without official numbers provided by the Federation, these are numbers to the best of our knowledge.
1 Based on an informal quote from Fosters of £60 per day. At 39 weeks of school per year, this equates to around £11,000 per school year.
2 Mixed-Age Grouping: What Does the Research Say, and How Can Parents Use This Information? http://www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content4/mixed.age.group.pn.html