Harry Eyres always writes a thoughtful column in the weekend edition of the Financial Times; he didn't disappoint on the weekend of June 30/July 1 (2012) with his piece entitled "Small school of thought." He is effusive in his praise of small schools, and I thought that I would share some of his thoughts with the readers of Introit, as there is much here that resonates with us in independent schools.
- "My first school was not just a small school but a very small school indeed. I think there were usually around 27 pupils, taught by two remarkable women: a charismatic, creative dynamo called Miss Allen and quiet, wise Miss Bagehot, who apart from keeping us reasonably calm (and providing voluminous bloomers for little girls who had accidents), I guess performed the same role for her gifted, volcanic colleague and friend."
- "I was always a little bit afraid of Miss Allen because of this explosive tendency but the brightness with which the school shone, the sense of possibilities it gave us, came from her."
- "But Miss Allen and Miss Bagehot knew first how to win me over and then how to inspire me. It helped that we spent as much time outside as inside, going on nature walks and playing in the long garden with its apple and pear orchard and its long grass. Miss Allen was a passionate environmentalist long before that term was widely used."
- "The word 'creative' has become horribly overused but to remember what it really means I need only think of Miss Allen. For her, creativity was not an optional extra, something to be tacked on after you tackled the utilitarian curriculum of reading and writing and maths, but the burning core of both education and life."
- "We learned geography on Miss Allen's magic carpet, which took you to all corners of the globe. you might visit an igloo by crawling under a desk; and then eat whale blubber in the form of nougat. Miss Allen was the opposite of insular."
- "According to a campaign led by the arents, the local authority [in a community which Eyres visited recently, to spend time in their small school] wants to close the school, which consistently scores high marks in assessment exercises. Cost-conscious councils tend to be biased against small schools and to believe they are less "cost-effective" than larger ones."
- "Beyond the hard evidence and the narrow accounting, I would say the value of small schools, both to individuals and communities, might well be incalculable. How can you calculate the benefit of enabling a child to find the bedrock of their future life? And how can you calculate the beneift of an excellent small school to its local community, to which it is fitted as the right species is to its ecological niche?"
Thank you, Harry Eyres, especially for the comments at the end of your article (my last bullet point, above). You sum up our feelings very nicely.