Big praise for small schools

Big is not always better when it comes to education, says Mum in the City columnist SONYA FLADUN

OVER the past three years, both my kids have attended one of the ACT Government’s four early learning schools that provide education from pre-school to Year 2.

When our son and daughter first enrolled, the newly established school had barely 30 children. Our son was in a kindergarten class of only six. It was a wonderful environment, more a family than a school.

The class sizes have now grown considerably, but the school still remains quite small. The teaching staff pretty much know all the kids, not just the ones in their class. The children are happy and engaged, learning in an environment that is supportive, indeed nurturing, and with a real sense of community. The same can be said of my son’s new school, a small independent school with about 40 students. Our boy, now nine years old and in Year 3, is dyslexic and has struggled with reading and writing.

Two brief experiences at other much larger ACT Government schools proved unsatisfactory as it was all too clear his needs would be simply lost in the crowd. In a small, intimate environment our son is thriving and making progress way beyond our expectations.

Of course, in recent years the trend in public primary education has gone the other way. It appears that the four ACT early learning schools, originally presented as a trial, are a model that isn’t going to be followed. Instead, the ACT Government has closed numerous smaller schools in favour of massive, so-called super schools where economies of scale supposedly deliver better facilities, greater choices in curriculum and better information technology.

All that may be true, but I wonder whether bean counting has led our education bureaucrats to put too much emphasis on quantity rather than quality.

In my family’s experience there is really no doubt primary education delivers the best outcomes in a small environment, a community where kids are seen as individuals, rather than a mass-production facility where they are all too easily reduced to little more than raw material for NAPLAN statistics.

It may not be the cheapest option, but small things are often worth so much more. Perhaps our education policy makers and politicians could think about that a bit more.

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