This week I attended a meeting with other heads of small schools in Somerset. Somerset is a unique county in that it has a significant number of small primary schools. Being small has distinct advantages, but also challenges that we have to face that heads of larger schools most definitely do not. The small school heads try to meet regularly so that we can share what we are doing well as well as share ways in which we are overcoming our challenges!
There have definitely been times over the past few weeks when I have become too focused on the challenges, and the advantages of being the head of a small school have not exactly been at the front of my mind. Staff illness for example - with such a small staff we wear so many hats already, and there is simply nobody to take on tasks if a member of the team is absent. Cleaning toilets and hoovering the classrooms needs to be done, and when our caretaker was away last week it meant adding those jobs to my already long list of tasks! I am lucky at Wookey that my team is always prepared to go above and beyond, whether it is doing an extra lunchtime duty, putting on the yellow vest and supervising crossing patrol or mucking in with cleaning duties, I know I can rely on my staff. I simply couldn't do it without them.
The other main challenge that has been at the forefront of my mind in the last few weeks has been the extreme financial pressure that small schools feel. I know that all schools are under pressure in this way, but small schools feel it more. It regularly feels like a matter of 'life and death' for us, keeping Wookey going, and without the generous support of our PTA things would undoubtedly be worse. When I was told this week that we needed a new server and that we needed to find several thousand pounds to cover it, I couldn't pay it without thinking of the efficiencies we would need to find to offset this.
Luckily though, I have also been reminded of the positive aspects of being a head of a small school recently, and of the fact that these positives vastly outweigh the challenges we face. It was a pleasure to be able to speak to the less experienced heads of other small schools this week and to remind them of this. The chance to do things differently for example, to try new things, is not as easy in a huge primary as it is in a small one. Unfortunately, it seems that this autonomy is being reduced when small schools join a MAT though, which is not something that we are even considering at Wookey.
This means that we can continue to really personalise our curriculum so that it actually meets the needs of our children - we do not deliver a 'national' curriculum at Wookey but a 'local' curriculum, designed for Wookey children. We can do this because we are a small team who work together constantly - we do not have departments, year groups, key stage teams, we are one team!
The chance to do things differently has been most obvious in our work with UX2 recently, although it can be seen in all aspects of what we are trying to do at Wookey. I get a huge buzz when this is recognised by visitors, and being told this week by the founder of UX2, a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan, that we should consider ourselves a 'beacon' school certainly did the trick. As I told the other small school heads this week, despite the many challenges of the role, it is the best job in the world!