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Large versus small schools.

(18 Posts)
Annietheacrobat Mon 24-Nov-14 12:39:30

We are in the fortunate position of living within catchment of two decent primary schools. I am really struggling to decide which is best for DD. Our closest school is small - one form entry per year. It was failing and undersubscribed until a few years ago when a new head teacher joined and turned it around. It is now very popular. It seems very nurturing and the head teacher knew every child by name on the tour.

The other school is large - three forms per year but it is on a huge site and so does not feel overcrowded.

I have visited both and we are still undecided.

DD1 appears to be quite bright and the HT of the larger school was keen to explain how beneficial it was to have three classes per year, as it meant that they are more effectively able to cater to all ability levels by dividing children in to groups across the year for maths and phonics. He was reluctant to call it streaming but I suppose that is what it is. She is also quite confident and outgoing.

I would really appreciate the wisdom of mumsnetters on the advantages and disadvantages of single form versus multi form entry at primary school level.

TeenAndTween Mon 24-Nov-14 13:31:20

DD2 is at a single form entry primary.

Disadvantages
- less choice of friends
- fewer after school clubs run

Advantages
- no angst about year groups being mixed up and moving away from friends
- more likely to be picked for things

sugarhoops Mon 24-Nov-14 13:54:34

My kids are at a large primary school - 3 form intake on a large site. They thrive there, both have a brilliant & diverse circle of friends, and they mix the classes up for different sessions eg phonics / numeracy (i.e. 'streaming' as per your OP, or I believe 'differentiation' as its also known). It does work very effectively in a large school environment because instead of having 1 or 2 really bright kids in the year, you have a good solid group at each 'level' or ability. This means my kids are already familiar with lots of kids in the year group, not just their own class, due to this daily mix-up.

My DD has been in same class group since reception entry (she's now yr1). My son had all his class jumbled up going from y2 to y3 (it had stayed same since reception) - he went into yr3 with only 3 other kids from his original reception class. He doesnt mind at all though - he knows the other kids so well, he's just settled right into the new class and see's old mates in the playground.

YY to clubs too - some friends with kids at smaller, village primary schools do envy the amount of (often) free after school clubs that are on offer for my kids. Plus our school trips are more impressive - whole year group visited London to watch Willy Wonka in the west end in yr 2 as they can afford to do so on economies of scale. We also get teenagers visiting from the local grammar schools to run sports clubs etc - because of the size of school, there is the space and number of pupils to successfully do this. Its lovely to see the teenagers mixing with primary kids.

I would, however, agree with tween and teen on the advantage of more likely to be picked for things in a smaller school environment - our school nativities are somewhat laboured affairs where you have to create 90-odd roles to accommodate each child. Who knew that there were so many sheep / wise men / goats present at the birth of jesus?! But its no matter, a large school provides a great community for kids to learn and play in.

I'd say go with your gut - you probably know, deep down, which school you prefer, so i'd say go for that (for now - there is always option to switch at a later date if all goes disastrously wrong, although i'm sure it wont!). GOod luck!

NynaevesSister Mon 24-Nov-14 14:28:33

Big school here. Lots of advantages as mentioned. Plus the secondary we are applying for is only one form bigger! So I have no worries about him getting lost in the crowd.

sunnyrosegarden Mon 24-Nov-14 14:35:24

single form entry school here - we love it. The year groups mix well, so there is a real family atmosphere throughout the school. Differentiation has not been a problem at all as work is set for each child. Every teacher knows every single child, and parent, which makes connunication very easy. Lots of clubs.

I think you have to go with your gut feeling on the individual schools.

bearwithspecs Mon 24-Nov-14 15:24:08

Big school every time. What is cute and nurturing at 4 is stifling at 10. If you don't imed fit in with the majority, there are no alternative friends. Tons of resources and clubs and often bigger wrap round provision. I would hate my DD to be stuck with 10-15 girls who she may not get on with for 7 years

bearwithspecs Mon 24-Nov-14 15:28:24

Sugar - luckily we have 3 versions of nativity !!!.. But they do mix for other things. Even a few weeks into term they all seem to have friends across all 3 classes - even the tiny quiet ones. I think it builds their confidence too. Our reception have their own playground so they get used to that first then mix more and more with older ones.

TweeAintMee Mon 24-Nov-14 15:32:08

If you have an exceptionally bright child it is unlikely that your DD will have an academic peer cohort in a small school. This can mean that your child is set separate work and also find little in common with age peer group.

Friendship issues can become socially crippling in a small school as there is no escape or choice of other friendships.

Small schools can be delightful and nurturing environments but it sounds as though your child is socially adept and will thrive in a bigger school.

Annietheacrobat Mon 24-Nov-14 17:13:36

Thanks everyone who has replied. Really helpful.

To those who have said that we should go with our gut - for once in my life I don't seem to have a gut instinct about this! Though the fact that I am seriously considering the larger school which is further away might be a sign that I am not 100% happy with the idea of a one form entry school.

I suppose I am worried about DD not 'gelling' with her class but that could still happen in any school.

bearwithspecs Mon 24-Nov-14 19:10:34

In big schools the very academic, very sporty, very musical will find peers. The Tom boy girl and quiet boy will find a soul mate. My DD would hate being stuck in a class of girly princesses. They can meet others outside class or via clubs or activities after school as well as across classes

meandjulio Mon 24-Nov-14 19:16:33

DS is 10, and has been in a single-form entry school since preschool. We have been up and down about this. In general, we absolutely love the school and have no criticisms at all, though.

Pros:
no angst when classes are rearranged each year. It is incredible how much agony this seems to cause - which friends will still be in the class? will she still be with the very needy one? etc etc. A great relief we don't have this.

Incredible level of tolerance and stability re the ups and downs of primary school life because he has the same friendship circle.

Friends I swear he will know for life (and at 45 three of my best friends are still from primary school so I'm not kidding).

Makes the transition from EYFS to year 1 seem a lot less traumatic - if anything, year 1 felt gentler than a big rumbustious foundation stage.

Anti:
if he goes into a tricky class, that's it - no chance for a year 'off' being with the tricky ones, or at least different tricky ones.

Fewer resources - I'm sure the language teaching and PE are less adventurous because it's a small school.

It may be more of a shock going to a big secondary, though I think ds will cope.

newgirl Mon 24-Nov-14 19:30:34

Ideal IMO is small for infants, large for juniors. You might be able to move her in y3 if you not devoted to small school by then

smee Tue 25-Nov-14 09:29:00

We had this choice way back, so small one class entry or bigger school. I anxted about it, but we went for the bigger one and I am so glad we did. Much wider choice of friends, easier to break up cliques, more kids working at whatever level your child is at, etc, etc. The Head Teacher still knows every child's name in our school and DS has really strong friends in both classes.

phlebasconsidered Tue 25-Nov-14 11:42:25

I haver taught in both large (3 form entry) and small one form entry primaries, and I say samll all the way. In fact, i've just moved both of mine from the large to the small.

In general, from my perspective, I enjoy teaching in the small school much more, because I know every child matters so much more to the schools statistics. Every single result in a year group of 30 matters, a LOT. Every single child will be pushed to show progress.

When I taught in a 3 form entry, I was told repeatedly to focus on the SEN, the SAplus, the SA and the G&T. Sod the middle, or those where they were "meant" to be, their data doesn't count for shit on SIMS. Sad, but horribly true. As both my kids are top end average, they were never going to be psuhed, never going to get the attention in a bigger school where their results sat perfectly, unless they also happened to be SA or SEN.

When I have pupils progress meetings in my smaller school, they are a joy, and I get given all the help I need to make every child succeed, because the smaller school HAS to do that.

If your kids are super talented, or on a statement, then you'll probably be fine in a larger school where they work to both ends. But if your kids are average ( and i'm talking a sublevel or two either side of the expected), then go smaller.

Hoppinggreen Tue 25-Nov-14 11:53:46

I always thought I would want my children to go to a small school, despite the fact that I did and was badly bullied.
However they are at a large 3 class per year intake and it's great. There is always do end to play with in case of fallouts for a start, the resources are good and so are most of the teachers. Plus most Secondaries are big so I think it prepares the better.
My DNS go to a tiny village primary and although it sounds all cute and lovely there are done major issues as well I think

CalamitouslyWrong Tue 25-Nov-14 12:10:47

Ds2 goes to a small school. One form entry YR-Y4. It's great. The children know each other very well, and know the children in other classes well. Part of it is that the school is very nurturing and just lovely. He'll go to a three form middle school for Y5.

DS1 has been in schools of various sizes.

* He's been one of 60 (but only one of 6 boys in the year group, and they split they up between the classes). That was awful, but partly that was because it wasn't a very nice school and his teacher was truly horrible (like something from my school days horrible).
* He's been in a class of 18 in a very unpopular school with a deprived catchment, first as a class in its own right and the a composite class. That was great actually, because it was a lovely school. They were brilliant at differentiation (and there was still plenty of differentiation needed even with small numbers).
* He's been to a three form entry primary school that was beyond horrific. But it was all because of the school rather than the having three forms.
* A three form entry middle school, which was much, much better.
* he's been in a year group of 360 (secondary), which was dire. He was very clearly just a number. But, again, that was the school not the numbers.
* now he's in a brand new school with a PAN of 180, but they're are only about 140 in the school at the moment (across two year groups). He's much, much happier but (again) it's due to the school not the numbers.

So, yes, the common theme there isn't the size of the school but the ethos, atmosphere and character. I'm not convinced that having more children (and therefore more ability grouping) necessarily matters because it really is about how the school approaches things. Just having more sets within a year won't necessarily make a difference.

AmazonGrace Tue 25-Nov-14 14:38:25

We moved ds from a small primary to a much larger one last year.

The reasons were friendship issues, a rather difficult year group and no means to be moved around as only one form entry. He was doing very well academically though so it was a really difficult decision.

The bigger primary is much more suited to his personality, he's still finding his feet and some friendships are starting to blossom. We've had a few set backs but he's a creature of habit and the change has been a bit difficult. The kids club set on the school site is busy and there's lots to do, at his old school there were only about three other children who attended, ds got bored. There are lots more extra curricular activities at his new school, lots of things going on.

If I had my time again I would pick a larger primary every time.

Annietheacrobat Tue 25-Nov-14 20:27:11

Thanks again everyone. I'm going to try to arrange another visit to the smaller school, and will also contact current parents at both.

I have always considered myself a 'laid back parent'. I can't believe how difficult I am finding this decision.

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