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Small is Beautiful

Small is beautiful…especially when this entails a small school, small classes with a colossal impact and huge attention to pupil potential! Samantha Scott, Headteacher at Heathcote Preparatory School and Nursery, Danbury, Essex, reflects on the nation’s recent journey into lockdown class sizes and the personal attention, focus and detail that can be given to pupils in small class sizes.

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During the recent lockdowns, many of my state school colleagues have found that their usually large classes have become much smaller. This may be due to children unable to access IT technology at home, or perhaps with some of the children being onsite as they have key worker parents or maybe during the end of summer term 2020 when some children returned to school and some remained at home. Various recent occasions when the class sizes and dynamics changed for most schools.

As a teacher in an independent school setting, friends have often good naturedly joked with me that we have it easier and only teach a handful of pupils in our classes … I take this well, replying that yes I do indeed love where I work and hope they are fortunate enough to join me in the feeling of such workplace joy one day. I ask you – who wouldn’t want to work with children and families that make a definite choice to be part of my school and are indeed willing to go without other luxuries in order for their child to be part of our community? Who would be crazy enough to turn down work in a place where we are able to put the pupils’ learning and wellbeing above government documentation and OFSTED form filling? Who would choose not be part of a setting that considers pupil progress and secondary school preparation and provision to be of higher importance than SATs results? Even more essentially, which teachers wouldn’t choose to be in a school where every staff member knows every child’s name and essential details such as if they are struggling with anything across our lessons, at home or are celebrating anything wonderful whether this be a 90th birthday in the family or a new chicken, these details matter to our children and should matter to us. 

In the current climate, we have all considered our wellbeing, emotional load and how to enable our work life balance to be more equal. This is the same for our children. Small is indeed beautiful. I know in all certainty that I can focus more greatly and have a larger impact on my pupils’ progress and attainment if I have a restricted number in my class. They receive more pupil-to-teacher time every lesson than they might in a day with over 30 peers in their sessions. 
It is truly not that we work less, rather that we work more within our time with pupils to ensure the child that we know inside out has their needs met. We tailor our questioning and thought process to getting the very best from each child as an individual not merely delivering a curriculum on mass. I have always endeavoured to give every pupil I have taught, in every school I have worked, the very best; however when I have a streamlined class I can have a more targeted approach with greater knowledge about the pupil and therefore be more responsive to their requirements and differentiation needs. I have more time at the end of the school day to chat to, and meet with, parents to ensure that our pupils are tracking along their own learning journey to be all they can and that we are offering a plethora of opportunities to best suit our community. It is such a privilege to be able to do so, definitely not easier but most certainly fortunate to have such an opportunity to be your best, whether you are the teacher or the learner.

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The author

During the last twenty (or so!) years following graduating with an education degree and masters from Cambridge University, Samantha has taught primary age pupils including EYFS across state and independent schools. She has been a member of the SLT in several settings including the Deputy Headteacher at three schools, has qualified to inspect ISI schools and now is the Headteacher at Heathcote Preparatory School and Nursery in the beautiful leafy village Danbury, Essex. Samantha says her main joy has been to ensure that pupils receive the very best in their education, excellence for academic provision and progress alongside opportunities that go beyond their age regarding access to a wide range of extracurricular activities, sporting and creative lessons. She relishes in watching the pupils develop along their own individualised learning journey towards confidence in their abilities and position in the world and being a small part of this always feels such a privilege.

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