Getting to school in the snow

So once again, half of England lies paralysed under an inch of snow. I find myself reminiscing about January 1967, when, as a 10 year-old boy, I walked to school along paths cut through snowdrifts that lifted well higher than my head. All through that bitter winter I didn’t get a single day off.

Were we tougher in those days? Actually, no. My primary school was only a quarter of a mile from my house. All the pupils, and enough of the teachers, lived locally. That’s still the case, and indeed I believe that a greater proportion of primary schools than secondaries stayed open today.

Immunity to bad weather is one of the lesser benefits of local schools. The greatest benefit is the way they underpin the community. A primary school typically serves one parish, having largely taken over from the church the role of community centre. And the parish has endured since Roman times as a fundamental unit of our society – it’s that stable.

Why, then, do we wait until our children are almost adolescents, and then pull them out of this supportive structure by sending them to secondary school? Historically, it was because each town could only support one fee-paying grammar school for its elite, and that was small enough. Now, the argument is to do with economies of scale. A small local school can’t support a specialist Geography teacher, say.

The arrival of the internet in schools changes all of that. Specialist teachers can teach remotely – through IM, video links, message boards and half a dozen other appropriate technologies.

Certainly there’s still a need for some shared facilities; top quality gymnasia for example, but it will be cheaper as well as socially more cohesive to minibus students to those when needed. Economies of scale are no longer a reason to continue to undermine local communities.

Technically, how soon could we see a return to community-focused (and community-fostering) local schooling across the age range? Where there are available buildings, we could do it right away. How soon before we really see the first one? Rather longer, I fear.

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