On bigger being better – or not?

It’s the last day of school today. In some ways it was much like the last day of every Summer term – over excited kids, Year 6’s full of swagger on the yard with their autographed shirts, an after-school picnic in the park across the road, reflections on another year of their precious childhood having flown by. But this year things had an extra layer of poignancy – today was the last day that our kids will go to school at their current site. When they go back in September, they’ll be moving to a brand spanking new, purpose built school – a school with adventure play equipment on the yard, built in whiteboard/computer screens in every class, and – get this – targets in the urinals, which change colour upon being hit accurately! (I may just consider one of those for when we get our house done next year…)

The kids are pretty chilled about the big move now. What had been worrying them most was the fact that their classes would be split and mixed with the equivalent year group from their sister school, which is also moving to the new site. Once they’d found out which of their friends would be in their new classes, and which teachers they’d be having, they seemed reassured and, apart from grumbling about the whole seven minutes longer it’ll take us to walk, haven’t really mentioned the move since.

There are so many positive things about this move. The new building will be amazing, compared to the current tiny, overcrowded site. There’ll be all sorts of opportunities for the kids – my biggest boy is excited that he might be able to take drumming lessons which would have been an absolute no-go where they are now, because there wasn’t any room for a drum kit, and certainly nowhere that it could go without being heard in every single classroom! The school dinners will be prepared on site rather than shipped in; the kids won’t have to be bussed elsewhere for sports; there’ll be a breakfast club and after school activities on site. Best of all for us, there’ll be a new nursery unit which my littlest boy will be going to in the mornings – in practical terms alone that makes our mornings a lot easier.

All this good stuff, and yet I can’t help feeling really, really sad about the change, because despite all the new facilities and opportunities, I feel like much of the stuff that I value as a parent will be disappearing.

Mostly, it’s to do with size. I love the fact that the school is one form entry. It means all the kids know each other, all the teachers know all the kids, and it’s easy to find and get to know the parents of the kids’ friends. Everyone congregates on the tiny yard before and after school, where we can catch up, arrange playdates, find out all the stuff our own kids don’t tell us, and also speak to the class teachers informally and easily. At the end of the day it’s not unusual to see kids still playing on the yard while their parents gossip, even half an hour or so after school has finished. This feels to me like a primary school should be – a sort of small, safe stepping stone to the big wide world.

The new school will be a different story completely – with a three form entry, it’s billed to be the biggest primary school in Wales. The logistics of such a large school dictate a very different beginning and end to the school day – we’ll be dropping our kids off at one of three gates (according to their age) rather than all in one place; though there is a lovely playground, it’s not clear whether parents and younger kids will have access to it after school or whether we’ll be encouraged to simply pick up and leave; and also I imagine it is going to be much more difficult to touch base with teachers informally. It just feels as if the small, family atmosphere, that admittedly can be a bit stifling at times but is generally, I think, A Good Thing for a primary school, will be extremely hard to replicate at the new site.

I am sure that tomorrow I will wake up feeling less melancholy about all this. And I do have to keep reminding myself that none of these things which are bothering me are worrying the kids in the slightest. It’s just going to be a new way of doing things, that’ll take a bit of getting used to. I guess, as a community of parents, we can simply regroup in a different way – we might need to be a bit more creative (monthly pub night, anyone?) And I am sure there are advantages to being in a large school that aren’t yet apparent. It’s just that right now, at this very moment, I am not 100% sure that bigger will necessarily be better.


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2 thoughts on “On bigger being better – or not?

  1. Hugs for the melancholy. Hope you’re feeling sunnier about this now.
    Your post just flagged up something for me, which is that while the school redevelopment seems to have done a fantastic job of including all the things the kids could possibly want and need, has it maybe overlooked what the needs of the parents might be? After all parents are users of the school as well. It’s hard, making sure absolutely all stakeholders are included. But also as you rightly point out, it’s an opportunity for parents to self-organise and find new structures that will serve just as well. xx

    1. Thank you, I am indeed feeling sunnier! I am sure we will all find a new way to keep as much of the good stuff as we can, and hopefully discovering some bonus ‘good stuff’ that we haven’t yet thought of…in the meantime let the summer holidays commence!

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