Big school or small school?



Just over a year ago I moved from a Oswestry School (NOR +/- 450) to Harrow International School Bangkok (NOR +/- 1600). I remember when I was at Oswestry feeling somewhat maligned by the 'big boys'. When I met teachers from larger independent schools I sensed their air of superiority.
It's true that small independent schools often struggle to compete in terms of facilities and resources. The laws of economics mean its harder to run a rich and varied curriculum, particularly in the sixth form. I felt these frustrations keenly whilst I was at Oswestry, and can't deny that a good number of them have vanished now that I work in a larger school. Nonetheless, the traffic is definitely not all one way. With the experience of both large and small schools I thought I'd summarise the pros and cons of working in each:
Big schoolSmall school
Economies of scale mean that there is likely to be a broader curriculum, particularly when it comes to making option choices at GCSE and A-level.

It is difficult to make 'niche' subjects like Latin, psychology, accounting etc. pay. Even if clever staffing and resource management do make laying on such subjects possible something is lost by being in a class of 2 as opposed to a class of 12. Small classes are only preferable up to a point..
Better able to weather the vagaries of the economic cycle. Small fluctuations in pupil numbers have little impact in the scheme of things and there is a dampening effect that attends a critical size.Small fluctuations can have significant implications for the school's balance sheet. Loose ten pupils, and you could be facing a round of redundancies.
At both A-level and GCSE subjects can be placed in multiple subject blocks to please almost every permutation of subject choice.A small school is likely to construct the 'blocks' after preferences have been collected. Some children will inevitably be disappointed - it is simply impossible to please everyone.
Economies of scale mean that large schools tend to be better resourced. There will be more support staff, better facilities and, probably, higher pay.
Money and resources tend to be tight in small schools. This can create a downward spiral if not very carefully managed - tight purse strings, mean lack of investment, which makes it harder to recruit pupils, which means tighter purse strings...
Getting things done can sometimes take ages. With so many people to consult and many layers of management seemingly simple decisions can be drawn out interminably.
You can get things done in small schools. There are fewer people to consult and the management structure tends to be flatter.
In a large school staff tend to be specialists with tightly defined roles. There is less room for generalists and commensurately less scope for fully getting Ășnder the hood'of the school. This can have implications of you are a manager seeking promotion - your experience will likely be narrower having come from a large school than it would have been had you worked in a small school.
Whatever your job in a small school, but particularly if you are a manager, you are likely to get a wealth of experience. Because there are fewer staff, each staff member takes on commensurately more responsibility. I found the things I got involved with at Oswestry bewilderingly varied. I learnt things by the bucketload.
There are dampening effects of large numbers on results and so swings one way or another are less likely and more of a worry if they do occur.
Forget annualized trends of upward progress in results. If you've only got small numbers of children taking public examinations each year your results are going to fluctuate wildly with the calibre of the cohort.
Absolutely no-one, no matter what they might tell you, knows every child's name in a large (1000+) school. This makes for a slightly different dynamic around the place.
With a bit of elbow grease it's quite possible to learn every child's name.

So there you have it. Pros and cons.


comments powered by Disqus