Select Committee on Education and Skills Written Evidence

25. Memorandum submitted by Human Scale Education (DP 31)


  Human Scale Education (a national charity) is concerned with achieving educational innovation and transformation through the development of small, community-run schools, and through projects in maintained schools which foster human-scale principles within large educational settings. The learning environments we help create are human-scale because they:

    —  facilitate relationships which allow every child to be individually known by their teachers and their community;

    —  develop partnerships between child, teacher and community which encourage active learning and responsible behaviour; and

    —  empower teachers and communities to develop schools and learning centres in their own local context which are accessible to everyone regardless of intellectual or economic status.


  A national network of around 20 small schools is affiliated to Human Scale Education. These schools have been established by parents, teachers and the local communities to meet local needs. Their characteristic features are:

    —  they are funded by parents, the community and charitable trusts, do not select pupils on intellectual ability or economic status, and are therefore not private schools in the traditional sense;

    —  they develop their ethos and curriculum based on local needs and parents' philosophical convictions; and

    —  their effectiveness is based on human-scale values and their positive impact on children of all abilities is variously demonstrated, from very good exam results through to inclusion of those experiencing behavioural difficulties.


  We are currently seeking public funding, administered through local education authorities, for a number of our small schools. We believe that diversity can be powerfully effective in providing choice to parents from all backgrounds and therefore increasing parental commitment to the education of their children, but that diversity as interpreted by the Government (such as through the specialist school initiative) is a limited and ultimately less effective mechanism for change.

  By the same token, a top-down process of innovation which communicates to schools "we want you to be innovative and this is how you will do it" does not make the educational system more sensitive to the needs and aspirations of local communities. We believe that grass-roots innovation in the form of new schools set up by parents and communities or campus style schools (a number of autonomous schools on the same site) formed from schools with surplus places or large secondary schools transformed through remodelling into smaller scale structures are enormous in their potential to raise educational attainment and to strengthen communities.

  As it stands at the moment, genuine educational diversity (expressed through freedom to shape the curriculum to the needs of the child, to develop strengths but not necessarily specialisms, to manage and lead without bureaucratic interference) is only available to those who can pay. The supplementary school movement speaks volumes for the desire of those who are less advantaged for innovative learning opportunities that meet the real needs of their children, and it ought to be a matter of social justice that the choices accrued by the well-off should be more widely available in our society.


4.1  Hartland Small School

  The Small School in Hartland opened in 1982. It was started by a group of parents because the only other option available to secondary aged pupils was a large comprehensive school in a nearby town which involved long bus journeys and because the parents were not satisfied with the style of education on offer in large state secondary schools.

  Caroline Walker, a past Headteacher of the school, said;

  They were keen to have an education which focused on the whole child, ie on the academic, the creative and the practical sides of education. By forming their own school they were able to devise their own curriculum and have the school they really wanted.

  The school was set up to provide a secondary education for the children of Hartland, not to cater for special educational needs. Any children who have joined the school with mild learning difficulties, however, have made excellent progress within the supportive small school environment.

  The education provided by the school is holistic, human scale and intended to meet the needs of the individual child. All the pupils are encouraged to take between five and seven GCSEs which are regarded as an external recognition of their achievements and enables them to access higher education. To study for a large number of GCSEs is regarded as unnecessary and restrictive of the pupil's whole development. Pupils are encouraged to follow a broad curriculum which includes creative and practical activities to help them develop into rounded young adults. The fact that equal status is afforded to all subjects whether academic or not has resulted in pupils who would normally be regarded as "less academic" having greater self-esteem and their performance in GCSE is believed to be better than it otherwise might have been. Likewise, the "academic" pupils have no feelings of superiority over the less academic and they gain valuable life skills they might not have otherwise gained.

  The National Curriculum is not followed at Key Stage 3 and the Government SATs are not carried out at that level either. However, the National Curriculum is followed at Key Stage 4 to meet the requirements of GCSE. For academic lessons the children are grouped broadly by age, but for practical and creative activities the groups are of mixed ages. Teaching groups vary from eight to 12 pupils according to the activity.

  The school ethos is based on principles of educating for sustainability, and the children are involved in decision-making at many levels. A large percentage of the school's funding is from charitable donations and the rest is made up from voluntary contributions from the parents.

4.2  Sands School Ashburton, Devon

  N.B. This short report has been provided by the school

  Sands is a small, democratic secondary school with 64 students aged 11-16.


  Sands was established in 1987 after the progressive Dartington Hall School was closed by its trustees. With only three teachers and seventeen students they had the luxury to investigate what would happen if they took the lid off education and had a look in to see what children and teachers really wanted out of school. We collaborated on a school design including its rules, curriculum and anthropology. The outcome was the demand for a radical social environment that challenged the accepted norm in most school's—no uniform, first name terms, children having real executive powers, children having the right to criticise, the right to determine what to study from age 11 upwards, the equal status of all activities and perhaps most importantly the transfer of power from the teachers and especially "head" to the school meeting comprised of all the children and adults. Each individual has one vote each irrespective of age or experience. Disciplinary issues, appointment of new members, maintenance of social order were transferred to that central executive and it delegated powers to sub-groups of students and staff to handle interviewing, recruitment, finances and cleaning. This ideology is at the heart of the school's experiments—namely, to discover the extent that an egalitarian community can be created within a school and hence to discover how far children can become enfranchised members or "citizens" of that school with real responsibility and authority.


  Despite this radical anthropology the children expressed then in 1987 and now in 2002 a continued aspiration to participate in a conventional assessed curriculum with GCSEs and other qualifications at its end. During the first fifteen years we have offered up to 21 examinable subjects and a wide range of extra-curricular activities. These exams include Entry Level French and Woodwork; GCSEs up to "A" levels in General Studies, Mathematics, History and Geography.

  The curriculum reflects a strong interest in learning. Although there is opportunity to follow a school career that is vocational, practical or unconventional most students choose a route that involves developing through chronologically—linear year groups engaged in a broad range of disciplines (see below). Tutors help children identify their aims and challenges for a term and then "mentor" them through their course of study. Accurate profiling helps show children how their choices are working.

  Years 7-9 all participate in a literacy programme aimed at giving each child the reading and writing skills to make available the full range of academic GCSE's should they want such a thing. They want children to choose to become chefs, grooms etc., because they have a passion for such careers and not because they are illiterate and feel squeezed into less academic professions. All children (ages 11-13) have an hour and half of one-to-one, small group or larger group work on projects, spelling, grammar, basic skills, library, and mathematics every day.

  Year 9 students have the choice to do Key Stage 3 tests in order to introduce them to the realities of National Testing. Most choose to undergo some range of tests in order that they can evaluate their progress relative to their peers in conventional schools. This is counter to the common mythology of alternative schooling namely, that children will avoid highly demanding work if given the choice. Quite the opposite is often the case when children see the reason for testing and carry little anxiety about the stigma attached to failure.

  Years 10-11 are GCSE years and below are our present exams on offer. Most students sit between six and nine exams and even those who score below the accepted entry criteria for local colleges often are awarded places based on their communication skills, their receptivity and confidence. One must remember that many of the students begin at Sands aged 13-15 and lose some months adjusting to the environment. Hence are often behind their peers in other schools. The term "late-developers" would be well used for these students who go to Sands as refugees from other schools.

  (On offer this year; English, Mathematics and AS Level Mathematics, Art 3D, Unendorsed and Photography, Drama, History, Woodwork, Music, French, German, Geography, Information Technology, Single and Double Science.)

  The statistics for leavers looks like this. In an average year, seven out of ten move on to college immediately. Five of those go on to academically-orientated AS/A Levels. Within three years another two of the leavers have gone on to college and one/two travel, work. About 40% go on to university before the age of 26 and a high percentage goes into jobs based around the arts, performance and communications.


  The school functions as a charity and is a limited company that is connected to the school in the following manner:

  The school is owned by the Charity, whose business interests (namely the school) are handled by the directors of a limited company which is advised by a board of Governors who are answerable to, and guided by, the school meeting which comprises all voting members of the present school. The building and the business are owned by the elected members of the school (pupils and staff) and the bodies above advise, guide and observe so that the finances are morally handled and the constitution is maintained. Similar to a see-saw governors, directors on one side, pupils and staff the other and the constitution and the building and financial interests at the fulcrum.


  Staff have taken low wages perennially. 1987-£12,000. 2002-£18,000 despite their high level of qualification and experience. However, as original staff leave they may be faced with the issue of offering a pre-NQT salary for a job that requires great skill, experience and commitment to a radical idea.

  The original premise for low salaries was to attain low fees to make the school widely available. In 1987 10% of all fee income was then awarded in bursaries. In 2002, this stands at 19% and developing relationships with charities brings in another £30,000. Three children are supported by local Education Authorities and other statemented children come to the school with Local Authority backing but no financial support. Though not a "special" school, the provision offered appears to make school accessible to the many "refugees" out there. Physical and emotional special needs can be encompassed within the 70 students.

  Full fees stand at £4,750 per annum. The average fee paid by parents is closer to 2/3 of that, c£3,200. The breakdown in average years has been:

  1/3 pay a 1/3 of the fee (subsidised by Charities and Bursaries)

  1/3 pay 2/3 of the fee (subsidised by Charities and Bursaries)

  1/3 pay a full fee (subsidised etc and/or paid for by Local Education Authority)

  NB.  This fluctuates from year to year


  In brief, the experiment is 15 years on. The success is attested to by above average HMI reports, a fascinating and eclectic list of ex-pupils' careers; a good track record in supporting a wide range of children from all social/financial backgrounds; a very happy and excited student body who complain that the holidays are too long and the school day too short and perhaps most importantly by being a living example of the possibility of equality between the ages and proof that non-compulsory education leads to successful learners and insightful "citizens".


  Movements of small schools have been present in a number of American inner cities for about 15 years and are established enough to be assessed in their effectiveness. In deprived areas such as Chicago, Boston, New York and the bay area of San Francisco, they have been used as agents of change for urban renewal. In some European countries such as Denmark, and the Netherlands, there have been education frameworks enabling parents and community to found schools for many years, and there is evidence that this has promoted greater social harmony and reduced the impact of social class on educational outcomes.

5.1  Small Schools in the US

  A research project published in 2000 by the Chicago Small Schools Research Team called Small Schools: Great Strides, reviewed the impact of the Chicago Small Schools Movement. These small schools in difficult inner city settings, included both free-standing small schools and schools within schools (one or more small schools in a larger schools setting) and have the following characteristics:

    —  serve children of colour;

    —  serve children from predominantly African-American schools at the high school level;

    —  serve children from poorer families; and

    —  serve students who are achieving at levels below the average student in the system.

  The reasons why educators wanted to set up small schools were so that they could:

    —  establish intimate learning communities where students are known and can be pushed and encouraged by adults who care for them;

    —  reduce the isolation that can seed alienation and violence;

    —  reduce discrepancies in the achievement gap;

    —  encourage teachers to use their intelligence and experience to help pupils achieve; and

    —  strengthen partnership with parents.

  What they found was that small schools accrued a number of benefits to children including:

    —  higher than average attendance levels;

    —  significantly reduced drop-out rates at the high school level for both freestanding schools and schools-within-schools; and

    —  significantly higher grade point averages for high school students.

  The Northwest Regional Education Laboratory in Oregon, USA published research on the relationship of school size to various aspects of schooling. The findings show that "small schools do a better job than large ones on virtually every measure of student attitudes and achievement. The main findings are:

    —  academic achievement in small schools is at least equal—and often superior—to that of large schools;

    —  sudent attitudes toward school in general and toward particular school subjects are more positive in small schools;

    —  student social behaviour (as measured by truancy, discipline problems, violence etc) is more positive in small schools;

    —  levels of extra-curricular participation are much higher and more varied in small schools;

    —  student attendance is better in small school;

    —  student academic and general self-regard is higher in small schools;

    —  inter-personal relationships between and among students, teachers and administrators are more positive in small schools;

    —  teachers attitudes towards their work are more positive in small schools; and

    —  larger schools are not necessarily less expensive to operate than small schools.

  Taken from Kathleen Cotton School Size, School Climate and Student Performance, Close-up No 20 1996


  A summary of the available research has been published by Michael Klonsky of the Small Schools Workshop called Small Schools: The Numbers Tell the Story, a copy of which has been submitted with this written evidence. Some of the points from his paper are:

    —  small schools are able to offer a curriculum that compares favourably with that of large schools while maintaining communality. The level of participation in all activities tends to be higher and fewer students are marginalised;

    —  Robert Crain's (1986) study of high schools concludes that "size is of critical importance in black schools", so much so that reducing high school size should be the highest priority in cities serving large, black populations;

    —  a study by the American Legislative Exchange Council (Report Card on American Education 1994) indicated that minority children in small schools out-perform their counterparts in areas where large schools predominate. Children do better in places small enough that "the principal knows the name of each student". Schools with fewer than 300 students showed the best performance even though class size in many of these schools was higher than the national average;

    —  smaller schools also can create fertile soil for teaching innovations initiated by the teachers themselves. After extensive field research to study a five-year period of innovation in two Vermont High schools, Robert Larson (1991) found that their small size (400-500 students) set in motion many different types of "inside-out" innovations. These are innovations that come directly out of teaching experience rather than top-down decision making or big changes in organisational structure; and

    —  on the question of cost, Professor Walberg of the University of Illinois at Chicago (1993) found a parallel between the growth in school size (400% since 1940) and per student spending (500%) and concludes; "Education in the United States clearly shows what economists refer to as "dis-economies of scale" where increasing size results in an increase in per-unit costs". Long term financial benefits accrue to society when students stay in education. The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development (1988) estimates that each year of secondary school reduces the probability of public welfare dependency in adulthood by 35% and that a single year's class of dropouts, over their lifetimes, costs the nation about $260 billion in lost earnings and foregone taxes alone.

5.2  Small Schools in Europe

  The ability of parents, teachers and local communities to establish schools and have them funded by the state is an integral and long-term feature of the education systems of a number of European countries. This arrangement was agreed in order to provide a settlement for minority groups who wanted to express their educational preferences and to create social harmony and a more equal society. The motivation for such a system is therefore different from the American experiments and based on mutually agreed values of trust, respect and democratic participation.

  Some points on two European systems taken from a report called Learning from Europe by Mogens Kamp Justesen (2002).

Danish Education System


    —  a nation-wide free choice of independent schools. Parents and students can opt out of the public sector schools, choose an independent school and have a large proportion of the cost covered by the government;

    —  no free choice in public primary schools and secondary grammar schools. Catchment areas prevail and local authorities allocate pupils. Parents can apply for enrolment in a public school outside the catchment area;

    —  free choice of school for students attending upper-secondary vocational schools;

    —  independent schools are increasingly popular, educating approximately 12% of primary and secondary pupils;

    —  non-profit organisations or groups of parents and teachers can set up their own school as long as minimum requirements are met;

    —  a minimum of 28 pupils must be enrolled in order to establish a new school;

    —  no specific national curriculum in primary and lower-secondary public and independent schools. The Ministry of Education sets out advisory guidelines concerning the curriculum;

    —  for parents, the government covers 80-85% of the cost of schooling in independent schools; and

    —  poorer families can apply for a free place for their child in an independent school and do not have to pay fees.

  Key Outcomes:

    —  all parents can send their child to an independent school; equal opportunities regardless of background;

    —  an unparalleled diversity of schools according to the OECD;

    —  lower per pupil cost in independent schools, despite their smaller size;

    —  higher pupil exam scores in independent schools; and

    —  higher parent satisfaction in independent schools.

Dutch Education System


    —  a nation-wide school choice system;

    —  free choice of public or independent school;

    —  non-profit organisations or groups of parents and teachers can set up and run schools provided minimum requirements are met;

    —  a comparatively diverse supply of schools;

    —  the central Government imposes regulations concerning national curriculum and exams on all schools;

    —  independent schools are protected by the constitutional right to freedom of organisation. This gives independent schools a comparatively high degree of managerial autonomy and allows independent schools to organise the process of teaching;

    —  around 70% of primary and secondary pupils attend independent schools receiving government funds;

    —  the government covers the full cost of schooling. There is no parent "topping up", but parents contribute financially to extra-curricular activities; and

    —  schools receiving more children from less privileged backgrounds will receive more money.


    —  equal opportunities for choice of public or independent school for all children;

    —  student intake of independent schools does not, on average, differ from the student intake in public schools;

    —  cost of education approximately equal to OECD average. Parental choice had not resulted in a particularly expensive system; and

    —  in international comparisons, pupils in the Netherlands perform among the best in Europe.

  By presenting this overview of what is happening in other countries we are not implying that "they have got it all right" and "we have got it all wrong." But we do suggest that by exploiting small scale and grassroots innovation, through the energies of parents and teachers, we in the United Kingdom could achieve an appropriate level of diversity, higher educational standards and greater cost-effectiveness in the long-term.

November 2002

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