From experience would you choose very small or much larger primary?

(54 Posts)
Bumblywumbly Thu 25-Apr-13 07:37:03

Teachers, parents, anyone?

I know there will be a range of opinions on this and it comes down to personal opinions and the DC themselves, but would love to get some input.

We live rurally and it's looking likely that next year, the two most likely choices for DD are going to be a 'larger than average school' pushing 400 pupils or a small village primary of approx 50-60. Will visit both and see how we feel of course but would be interested to get some thoughts- positives, negatives, would you make the same choice again?

PatriciaHolm Thu 25-Apr-13 07:39:20

Where we are 400 kids isn't particularly large, it's normal, and a number of schools are larger! I would have thought 50-60 kids in total made for very small friendship groups? Small classes I guess but taught across years?

Llareggub Thu 25-Apr-13 07:41:15

I have friends in a small school like the one they mention and they love it. There is a real family feel to it, and it is certainly idyllic; I looked around it for DS.

I chose a larger school for the facilities but felt it to be a bit impersonal. We've moved cities now and in a school of 200 but it feels so different. I think there are so many variables it is best to go with your gut instinct. Better to feel safe and secure in a lovely school than lost in a well resourced one.

Bumblywumbly Thu 25-Apr-13 07:44:22

Thank you, I think in our area Ofsted refer to bigger school as larger than average and it is in comparison to others. Yes, in the smaller school its mixed age classes and the other is two class entry.

tumbletumble Thu 25-Apr-13 07:44:52

Personally I'd go for the bigger one. I think it is a disadvantage if there are very few children to choose their friends from, also a big shock when they go to secondary. Probably better facilities too.

I'm assuming we're talking up to age 11. If it is infants only and they move at age 7, I'd go for the small school.

Pozzled Thu 25-Apr-13 07:54:07

I have taught in both, although not for very long in the smaller school. On the whole I think I'd go for the larger one (andas PatriciaHolm says, 400 is fairly small around here!)

Smaller school- generally very friendly, supportive, great atmosphere, all staff know all children, smaller classes (but mixed age). But more room for personality clashes, both with teachers and pupils. More chance for the staff to pigeonhole cdn as being a certain personality/ability. Less variety in teaching style.

Larger school- 'Fresh' start every year (not entirely but more so than when you have the same teacher three years running). More friends to choose from, but perhaps less adult support with social skills- staff less aware of what's going onin the playground. More variety in teaching style. Possibly more provision for specific teaching behaviour interventions if they're needed- a wider range of experience/qualifications in the staff. Perhaps more chance of 'average' children being overlooked, but sen/eal/those with other needs will be well knownto staff.

2cats2many Thu 25-Apr-13 07:55:57

400 is a small primary in London! The biggest one near me has 4.4 forms of entry so is around 900 pupils.

My DD goes to a 2 form entry school and it seems like just the right size.

lljkk Thu 25-Apr-13 07:59:22


redskyatnight Thu 25-Apr-13 08:55:52

Also surprised that a 400 primary is "larger than average" - that's just 2 classes per year surely? DS's junior (i.e. Y3-Y6) has 400 children and I've never thought of it as particularly large.

I think this is a difficult one as early on I would say go for small and friendly but later on I'd rather have larger for more facilities.
I'd worry about friendship groups in a small school. DS's infants had 60 children in his year group (but about 35 girls to 25 boys) and he still really struggled to find anyone he gelled with - most of the boy were football loving and he isn't!

seeker Thu 25-Apr-13 08:57:20

I would always go larger, all other things being equal. This goes against the received mumsnet wisdom, I know.

heronsfly Thu 25-Apr-13 08:59:33

My younger dds went to a primary school that had dropped in numbers enormously since my older children attended, and i would choose a bigger school if I could go back, we ended up with mixed classes, very small friendship groups and of course, less funding.

Blu Thu 25-Apr-13 09:05:06

Of those choices I would go for the 'large' school, all other factors being equal. Bigger schools have more choice of after school activities or lunctime clubs (this might not seem important now but it will by yr 3 or 4), , more capacity to be flexible with budgets and provide a wider range of facilities and extra curricular and enrichment opportunities such as trips, and crucially, a wider pool of friends. This again becomes more important as friendship groups become ever more single sec as they grow.

Timetoask Thu 25-Apr-13 09:05:33

How good are your child's social skills? Would you say they find it easy to make friends?

HairyPotter Thu 25-Apr-13 09:09:40

My dds both went to a small school, 65 pupils in total. On the whole it was lovely. The drawbacks however were very small friendship groups, dd1 was one of two girls in her class for 3 years. There was a lack of after school activities as well. The jump to secondary (800) wasn't a problem however.

If I had to choose (I didn't, we had no real choice) I'm not sure what I would do. There are pros and cons for both. <unhelpful>

OneLittleToddleTerror Thu 25-Apr-13 09:09:50

400 if it's a primary (not infants) would make it only a 2-form entry isn't it? Then it's actually a small school. The smaller village school would only have 8-9 children per year. I'd be wary if there are only 4 girls in my DD year.

crazymum53 Thu 25-Apr-13 09:36:55

I would choose the "larger" school.
As school funding is linked to the number of pupils this would be better funded.
Also with more teachers every area of the curriculum would be well covered and there is less likely to be mixed age classes.

DeWe Thu 25-Apr-13 09:44:52

My dc's juniors is over 600.

The advantages are:
Specialist music, ICT, SENCO and sports teachers.
Lots of clubs, both free and outside providers
Lots of sports teams
Wrap around care
They get a lot of good people in to talk and people come to the school when they're looking for children to take part in things.
Your child can be split from someone that causes them problems
Lots of equipment and play stuff
Makes going up to (very large, 13 form+ ) secondaries less daunting
Lots of people (other than form teacher) to talk over problems
Year 6 get quite a lot of responsibility, and lots of chances to use it.

Some children find it very daunting
Easy for a child to, for example miss lunch, because lots of places and people to hide behind.
Friendships still tend to be in forms, so friendship groups for the shy ones don't tend to be expanded.
School trips are limited to where can take so many children
Can be hard to know which person to go to for advice (want to go higher than form teacher, don't know head of year too well and not sure they know my dc very well not having taught them, head seems overkill)
Even though there are lots of sports' teams, there's lots of competition (although they have a very good record of winning)*
One thing that sometimes irritates is that they don't coordinate some things things across year groups. (eg. One child says "I'm not allowed to do this competition because I go to XX club. Child who wins goes to XX club because their teacher didn't use the same rules)

*Actually the games teacher does reward effort in picking teams. My dd1 was chosen several times despite not being very sporty because he said that he knew how much effort she put in.

mamapants Thu 25-Apr-13 10:01:54

400 seems massive for a primary school to me!!
I have a similar scenario to you in choosing between a school of about 50, a school of 150 and what to me is a large school of 250.
400 seems very daunting for a primary to me. I would be worried about how much individual attention children are getting and how easy it would be to make friends in such a large group.

Beehatch Thu 25-Apr-13 10:11:28

I went to a tiny village primary and loved every moment of it. There wasn't much in the way of after curricular stuff, but everyone knew each other, we made our own entertainment and kids were allowed to be pretty free range.

My kids on the other hand go to a 3 form intake infants (soon to be 4 forms) and they are also thriving. Loads of clubs and activities always something happening. However the school still feels welcoming and villagey.

So have two good experiences at each end if scale. I think what has made the difference is not just the schools attitude, but also the two lovely communities they were located in. Sorry that doesn't help much does it?

Bumblywumbly Thu 25-Apr-13 10:12:36

Thanks for all the replies so far- very useful! I realise it may seem odd to call it 'a larger than average school' ( ofsted's words) but in the area we are in it definitely is.

Friendship groups and socialising is among my main worries with a very small school but would like the personal, more family feel.

With a much larger school, I am thinking that for it to get a good ofsted report then it means they have seen consistently 'good' things going on across a number of classes and with lots of different teachers which means there must be some effective systems in place (doesn't mean there's not in the small school). I also like the idea of more facilities.

DD is an only, and is likely to remain so, so we really have to consider friendships/socialising very carefully.

Periwinkle007 Thu 25-Apr-13 10:16:56

it really does depend on the child's personality which would suit them better but you have to bear in mind where they will go at 11. If they have been in a tiny school but then have to go to a big comprehensive then the change could be too much for them.

I agree that 400 isn't big. where we are there are schools with intakes of 150 in reception and those which only take 60 are now in the minority.

Personally I would LIKE a school which is 1 form entry myself, so 30 in a year and a total of just over 200 in the school purely because I was lucky to go to one that size and I like the fact they can get the whole school together to do things but I do think 50-60 children would probably seem too small and it will limit friendships.

HeadFairy Thu 25-Apr-13 10:17:28

I went to a tiny school, I was the first year of entry as it was a new school and it was lovely. Tiny classes (about 10-15 per class, but not mixed age groups) and everyone knew each other.

As mentioned by others though going to secondary was a big shock. My primary school was basically like extended nursery school (back in the 70s so no sats, no Key Stages etc) and while I learned to read and write very well, that was about it. I was utterly freaked out by people who arrived at secondary school actually knowing stuff!

DS goes to a small primary. One form entry, but each class is full. It is lovely though, there's really good interraction between the years, they have whole school assemblies and ds has lots of friends in other years. But I didn't specifically choose that school based on the size of it. Our other alternatives locally were pretty grim. I'm glad he's there though... we'll just have to manage his transition to secondary. He'll cope. I did grin

lljkk Thu 25-Apr-13 10:18:16

I don't see why they wouldn't get as much individual attention.
Small schools the HT is often actually a teaching Head, they are spread just as thin as in a big school but not actually paid for it.
In a small school, what you get in terms of more staff & peers knowing your child better you lose in insularity & limited friendship circles.
Successful schools are under orders to expand, too, it's not like any excellent small school will usually get to stay so small.
Bigger schools have more money to get specialist staff in, more clubs on offer. What's not to like...

Takver Thu 25-Apr-13 10:18:42

I only have experience of smaller (around 80 pupils reception - yr 6). Its been OK for dd, but if I'd had the choice I'd go for a larger school without hesitation.

Not only more choice of friends as people have said. But also the teachers are inevitably going to come into contact with a wider variety of issues on a day to day basis, so if your dc have any problems there is more likely to be recent experience in the school.

As it happens, dd's school was the larger of the two on offer!

Takver Thu 25-Apr-13 10:19:08

"Small schools the HT is often actually a teaching Head"

or in fact in dd's school, the head is shared with another school

Having worked as a teacher and done my final teaching practice at a lovely and charming village school in Devon I'd say look round both but if the smaller village school has a good friendly feel and you meet some good teachers there and like the Head, I'd go for that one. I think our small village schools can be a lovely part of English life - sadly not so many of them around now as there used to be.
I think most schools have adequate facilities, and you can probably make up for what is lacking in a smaller school with a little extra-curricular activity - clubs, swimming and such like.

Viviennemary Thu 25-Apr-13 10:35:16

I think very small schools aren't such a good idea as children will have difficulty adjusting to senior school. That is only my opinion of course.

DeWe Thu 25-Apr-13 10:43:15

I think another question on a small one would be:
What is the risk that it is forcably joined up with other small schools, as happened in our area to three small schools. They're now a large infants and large juniors on split site, with one head between them, and is struggling.

I don't really agree with the idea of a difficult adjustment to secondary from a small school. I think a secure and happy time in a small school can be a good preparation for any secondary even if there is some initial adjustment to make at 11. But it's like secure 1:1 care in babyhood is the best preparation for being as sociable as you like in later life smile. It's about meeting the needs of that particular stage in life as well as possible, and not worrying too much about preparing for the next one !

YoniBottsBumgina Thu 25-Apr-13 10:49:59

I've never heard of primaries with more than 2 forms in each year - I had no idea they were so large now. So I'd be a bit daunted by a huge school. But my primary had 2 from entry and I loved it - it was a great school. I think it really depends on your DC and the feel of the school.

OneLittleToddleTerror Thu 25-Apr-13 10:52:30

They will still get individual attention even in a larger school isn't it? There will just be more teachers, and the classes are restricted to 30 a class anyway. I went to a primary with about 150 intake a year and I didn't find it daunting. If you grew up with it, it's normal.

I think in the end, you will have to judge a school by its own merits. (In addition to the friendship worries). I've heard nightmares about having only one other girl in the class, or evening being the only. I know one colleague who's moved to get her son out of a village school because it's too small, to a 2-form entry school. So I think I'm a bit biased towards the slightly larger one.

I transferred DS from a large school (760) which has rep as being best in town to small (120) village school. I think I had a thread on here about it actually..

The best thing I ever did. The difference it made was astounding, his confidence, his reading, his writing, everything has improved.

On his last day at the larger school he went up to the head teacher to give him a box of chocolates and say thank you, the headteacher had no clue who he was, I had to tell him his name.

Within a week of starting the new one, the headteacher would stand at the gates greeting everyone, would say "good morning XXXX"

Floggingmolly Thu 25-Apr-13 10:59:58

400 is a two form entry, isn't it? Not very large at all.
50 pupils, on the other hand, is little over two classes. shock you don't get them in the cities! I'd go for the larger.
BouncingFerret, that's standard for our school of 420 pupils; I think your ds's experience says more about the HT's personality than the size of the school, tbf.

gazzalw Thu 25-Apr-13 11:02:20

I personally feel for primary school aged children a school of 250 maximum is about the right size (for a city).

We purposefully chose a small, single-entry school for DS when he started in Nursery many moons ago. It was lovely because one got to know just about all the parents and the children really all knew each other (at least by sight) too.

Sadly when the baby-boomers started needing educating, the school increased to two-form entry and now it's got a couple of 'bulge classes' so effectively three form entry over a couple of years. It is not the same school at all and so many children and parents seem like 'strangers' and the children cannot hope to know all of their schoolmates.

I stand to be corrected but once primaries grow beyond a certain size they don't seem to have the same cosy, community atmosphere....

HaplessHousewife Thu 25-Apr-13 11:14:36

DD is starting at a school in September with a six class entry so that's 540 pupils just in the infants shock. I was a bit concerned about it at first but the school goes to great lengths to look after the little ones and make them feel included.

I went to a small school with a one class entry and I think there's advantages and disadvantages to both, I think it comes down to the feel and atmosphere of the school itself rather than the size.

BackforGood Thu 25-Apr-13 11:21:38

The biggest decider for me (obviously if I liked them both when looking round) would be choosing the one I could walk to / all the neighbours went to. You won't believe how helpful that is over the coming years.

irisblue Thu 25-Apr-13 13:00:19

It was a LONG time ago, but I went to a tiny school (21 pupils in total, only 3 in my year!) until I was 8 years old. I loved it. It was very eccentric (dogs were running around, if we fell asleep no one would wake us and we learnt Latin from 5), but it was wonderful. If I could find the same for my child I would send him there.

But it was only until I was 8 (we moved away so I left), not sure how I'd have felt at 11?

Ragwort Thu 25-Apr-13 13:04:09


My DS went to a very small, rural school, started off brilliantly but then there were some staffing problems which affected the whole school - in a larger school I am sure this would have been dealt with quietly and confidential but in such a small enviornment everyone knew what was happening and it all got very unpleasant.

Apart from that, I think the range of opportunities - sport/music/after school clubs etc etc will be wider at a larger school - and the range of children to make friends with. Plus the shock of going to a bigger primary school is not to be underestimated.

Ragwort Thu 25-Apr-13 13:06:25

Amazing - but we had the opposite experience at the schools my DS attended - at the smaller one the Head sat in their office but at both larger ones the Head would be out in the playground meeting and greeting. So much depends on the individual Head.

Tiggles Thu 25-Apr-13 13:22:36

Wow can't believe how big some of your schools are!
The DSs go to a primary with about 100 pupils. All classes are therefore mixed age group. They get on really well. Had no problems with making friends. The head knows all pupils and parents well. Had much greater issues when DS1 used to go to a primary with about 250pupils. He was often missed and passed over (he has Aspergers and it was easier to leave him hidden under a table than spend time helping him)

DS1 is about to start secondary school, being a rural area, the secondary is also small - about 600 pupils. so not a big step up really, and smaller than a lot of primaries by the sounds of it.

thegreylady Thu 25-Apr-13 13:57:56

I have always recommended small country primary schools to my dc.I have taught and done supply in a wide range of town and country schools and without exception the small schools were happy,friendly places with involved Head and a real family feeling.Some of the big ones were also excellent [especially a couple of big RC schools in Bradford].
My grandchildren go to a country school of about 80.They have Forest School, after school sports and choir as well as arts and crafts clubs and music/orchestra.The standard seems high and I love the way the age groups mix. They do struggle with things like forming football teams but on the whole I'd go small.

Netguru Thu 25-Apr-13 14:01:33


My kids moved to a lege school when we moved house. My daughter did ok but my son was badly bullied.

He moved to a school with 32 children total. Such a freindly atmosphere, all know each other and look out for each other. He's a changed character.

FreckledLeopard Thu 25-Apr-13 14:04:05

I'd vote for larger. DD's primary was three form entry, so around 700 children. Excellent facilities, teaching, great opportunities to make lots of friends, really great mix of children.

OneLittleToddleTerror Thu 25-Apr-13 14:24:00

netguru why would bullying have anything to do with school size? FWIW, DH went to a proper rural school. It's very small with mixed year groups. I'm not sure how large it is, but it's a town where you blink and you'll miss the 3-4 shops. (It's in NZ where we call anything town, and a place with 30k a city). He was badly bullied and he remembered hiding underneath his desk during many classes. His parents was told he was gifted when he was in a primary in Auckland, and was supported. The rural school couldn't offer anything. His view on it now is that they specialised in teaching kids who will be either 1) farmers or 2) work on minimum wage jobs, or 3) live on the dole. (It his words, and it's probably a bit cruel).

You can have a rubbish small or large school.

Bumblywumbly Thu 25-Apr-13 14:52:43

Wow lots of different experiences in both small and larger schools smile

I went to a small primary and have fond memories. DH went to a small school also and was bullied and really struggled with the lack of like-minded friends.. I do think though that there seems to be a greater emphasis on preventing/dealing with bullying in most schools nowadays- though not always as much as there should be in some cases I'm sure.

Viewing both is a must but it is so interesting to hear these different points of view.

Oh the headteacher at the larger school was always out and about, would regularly say hello to him in the morning, like I said it is known as one of the best schools in town, people fight to get their children in there! It just wasn't personal enough for me.

My experience of first and middle school was a small community, I knew all the teachers and they knew me. I'm chuffed I've managed to find that for my DS and DD.

I'm not saying that all smaller schools are better than bigger ones, just to not write them off because of their size.

DewDr0p Thu 25-Apr-13 15:50:38

As pps have said there are pros and cons to all sizes of school. I think so much depends on the Head so I would def go and look round both and get your own feel for them.

There are lots of small village schools around here. When you get as small as 50-60 then realistically you are looking at 2 or 3 classes which means you reach secondary school possibly only having been taught by 2 or 3 different teachers (at my friend's son's school there is one Junior class so he has the same teacher for 4 YEARS - great if you hit it off with the teacher, total nightmare if your dc and the teacher don't gel)

The upside is they tend to have a lovely family feel and the children mix much more with older and younger kids and have to learn to accommodate this. You always get a decent part in the school play lol. Downsides are mixed classes and possible lack of friendship opportunities. As pp said hard to field a sports team too!

I also think that whatever you choose will just be your dc's "normal" - they won't know any different. My kids are at single form entry schools (sep infants and juniors) and this feels like a happy medium to me.

AmandaPayneAteTooMuchChocolate Thu 25-Apr-13 16:08:35

400 is pretty standard isn't it - 60 intake each year?

Just to add one comment my mother makes, as a primary teacher. She always prefers a larger school where there are a couple of teachers per year. She feels that being able to bounce ideas off someone running the same topics, being inspired by what others do, moving year group perhaps more frequently all helped to keep her fresh as a teacher and be better. She also thinks that it helps newer and less experienced teachers to have that closer working relationship with someone teaching the same year.

It is also worth bearing in mind that, in a two form entry, there is scope for re-jigging the classes. For example, my mum's school (normally two form, but three at one stage some years ago, with porta cabins) make sure that, if there are groups of disruptive children, or two children with a consistent history of issues between them, etc they can be split up when they shuffle the classes.

Personally I would prefer a larger school. I was unsure even about a 30 year entry. The ones we put on our list were all 60 entry (actually, one was three form entry, but was only an infant school, so whole school not as huge as that implies).

quip Thu 25-Apr-13 16:08:55

Mine go to a small school. Every child knows every other child. The teaching staff know every family. We have first rate academic results but the really good thing is the nurturing environment which has really helped shy ds2. I would opt for the school which feels most friendly and welcoming when you visit, though.

Vickibee Thu 25-Apr-13 16:13:41

my ds goes to a rural village school, only 106 pupils. It is lovely - I am so pleased he has settled and made friends. I has a close Knit fell about it. There is also an allotment where they grow there own food and chickens that lay eggs. Snows a lot though lost 4 days due to weather

When he finally goes to the local 2ndry it has over 1500 pupils so he may feel lost

learnandsay Thu 25-Apr-13 17:01:34

We faced a similar "choice" except for the fact that the tiny village primary is actually out of catchment for us and had 11 siblings waiting for 15 places in Reception. We though (wrongly it seems) that our quiet and demure daughter would need a tiny school and would get lost in the very big school. As it turns out she settled in beautifully from day one.

LurcioLovesFrankie Thu 25-Apr-13 17:10:13

My son's at a huge (3X30 pupil classes per year) infant school, which I'm very happy with.

Pluses - loads of support for extra curricular stuff, a "forest school", properly equipped cookery room, music facilities on site, all with specialist teachers (children get taken out of their main class in small groups to use these facilities).

Minuses - haven't come across any yet. DS seems to have made friends very easily (in fact better than one of his friends from nursery who's ended up at a very small school but this is probably just luck of the draw) and the other parents seem very friendly.

LurcioLovesFrankie Thu 25-Apr-13 17:11:14

Oh, and it's big enough to support a breakfast/after school club on site, which as a WOHM single mum is an absolute god-send from my point of view.

MrsJamin Thu 25-Apr-13 21:35:51

DS1 goes to a small infant school, less than 70 pupils. I love it- DS1 knows all the children and I know most parents by sight now. It is a lovely tight-knit community and very different to the 2-form entry primaries around here.

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