Mark Steed has written an interesting and thought-provoking piece in defence of small independent schools. As the Head of a Small Independent School I would agree with much of the content of the post. Although there are some points that I hope might further serve to protect the unique character and importance of the more modestly sized schools.
Compliance and regulation have become more challenging, although ISI has taken some steps in the latest iteration of inspection regulation to address bureaucracy. I have found that our already over worked Bursary ought to have an additional member of staff to assist with the administrative support required. However, being a small school, the salary budget doesn’t allow it.
The blog post points to small schools being prone to tight margins. The Micawber Principle is simple prudency, essential in the management of any organisation and anathema to most Heads! Result: an effective working relationship between Head and Bursar is an imperative. Micawber is fun to unpack as a character with lessons for Heads and Bursars! Debtors Prison awaits for over extending school budgets, yet living in hopeful expectation is part of a leadership model that will take your school community with you! Far better to be Micawber than Heep.
Another point raised is about the purchasing power of smaller organisations. The Economies of Scale are indeed a challenge although it does encourage the development of good negotiating skills and long-term relationships with suppliers that ensures value. The current economic climate does make it a little more favourable for us, though.
However, I do disagree with the contention that we would “inevitably fall further and further behind their rivals, until they eventually become uncompetitive and fail.” The reason that we do survive is, I feel, two-fold. We are attractive to parents because we are small, because the children are well-known by staff and because the children can grow in confidence through the most formative of years. I am regularly reminded by parents that they chose us regardless of the modest facilities, the somewhat outdated classrooms and the traditional 1950’s design of the buildings. And secondly, it ensures we are creative in the development of our curriculum; that we can remain ahead of the pedagogic curve, assimilating advances in technology in the most manageable and effective way and, because of a small, flexible team, we draw on both traditional and contemporary approaches to learning and teaching.
Finally, it is my experience that in seeking to recruit staff, the environment established at school presents an opportunity to explore professional goals and is attractive to excellent, creative teachers who can strengthen the reputation of the school. This will then ensure that we sustain and, when the economic clouds move aside, grow our numbers because parents want their children to be happy (first) and successful (as a result).