Ofsted says small schools offer high standards

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SMALL SCHOOLS, long defended by parents and attacked by cost- conscious bureaucrats, have won the backing of inspectors. An unpublished report from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) says standards in the 2,700 schools across the country that have fewer than 100 pupils are as high as those in larger schools.

Campaigners said "jaundiced and ill-informed local education authorities" were still trying to close small schools on cost grounds. More than 450 have shut in the past 15 years. But the report says that only very small schools with fewer than 50 pupils are more likely than others to fail an inspection or to be found to have serious weaknesses.

It concludes: "Higher unit costs notwithstanding, a good case emerges for the place of small schools in the education system as a whole when the quality of their educational performance is added to the broader contribution they make to their communities."

League tables of primary schools published by the Government each year have highlighted the successes of small schools. They have been strongly represented in the top 100 schools for 11-year-old national tests results each year.

However, inspectors point out that most small schools are in fairly affluent parts of the country. When pupils' backgrounds are taken into account, small schools' performance is much the same as that of other schools.

The report rebuts the criticism that small schools are incapable of offering all the subjects of the national curriculum. It also supports traditional arguments for small schools - "family atmosphere, close links between staff and parents, an important place in the local community and good standards of behaviour".

A spokesman for the National Association for Small Schools accused local authorities of rushing to close them despite a government announcement last year that it would protect them, and said: "If we are seriously interested in improving educational performance we will celebrate rather than subvert the small school contribution to national quality."

t An Ofsted report on the first year of the Government's literacy strategy published yesterday says that literacy teaching is improving but there is not enough systematic teaching of phonics. The report warns that more good teaching will be needed if the Government's national target of 80 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching the expected standard by 2002 is to be achieved.