Last week ended with me feeling rather frazzled, mostly due to not having had any PPA. I tweeted about this, and @michaelt1979 responded that this was a sure sign I worked in a small school. And yes. Yes it is. We only have 1 PPA teacher for KS2 – we used to have 2, but then 1 left so the other just picked up her hours and now works 3 days instead of 2. So, if she’s off sick, then it’s bye-bye KS2 PPA. Which sucks. However, working in a small school is not all doom and gloom, and I’ve come to love it for several reasons.
My main reason for loving it is the independence it gives me. I am Year 3. Therefore, I can (within the school’s medium and long term planning) set my own agenda. I’m bored with that Literacy unit? No problem, I can change it – I think I’ve taught something different for information writing for each of the past 4 years in Y3. Not having to refer to anyone else or worry about messing up a parallel class gives me a lot of freedom to be creative and play to my own strengths – especially as my headteacher is happy as long as the children are, and progress is being made. I’m trusted to get on with it, and I can. I’ll admit that this is partly my temperament – I prefer to get on with things on my own, although I know that I have the support of colleagues if needed.
I also love the real sense of community. Everyone knows everyone. I’m fairly confident that you could line up the whole school from Y1 to Y6, and I could name every child. I could probably have a crack at a few of nursery and reception as well. We know our kids inside out, and because we’re all in contact with each other every day, we all know our kids. I know if that boy in Y5 is having a hard time, so when there’s trouble on the playground, I can cut him some slack. In a bigger school, I might not even know if he was Y5 or Y6, much less his name.
A couple of years ago, a child in our foundation unit was nearly killed in a car crash, and the support that was there for that whole family, including the brother in my class, was inspiring. Likewise when one of our dads was killed in Afghanistan: the sense of community is so precious and so needed at those moments.
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not all sweetness and light. We struggle with money – there are certainly economies of scale in a larger school. It can be tough in a class where kids don’t get on (ref. my current lot), as there’s nothing we can do – we can’t promise to mix the classes up again next year and hope it sorts itself out. If a child earns the disapproval of their class, they’re pretty stuffed. And having a couple of people off sick, or going through a crisis, can have an effect on the whole school.
Sometimes I really feel that lack of a parallel teacher, for all I enjoy flying solo. I love our small school cluster meetings, when I can get together with other Y3 teachers, compare books, do some moderation and get some reassurance that it isn’t just my little darlings who are addicted to ‘and then…and then…and then…’.
I’m fairly sure that most 1 form entry Primary schools aren’t long for this world – the pressure on places, especially in the south east, is just too great. However I think it’s important to go on record in whole-hearted favour of my own little corner of the education world.