How not to close a school.

Whilst the logic of school closures is portrayed in communications from the British Government and English local authorities as an act of logic and rationality, school closure invariably generates press stories of incensed parents, irate communities and exhausted teachers. What is frequently lost amongst the sturm und drang of closure however are the tiny stories (Denzin, 1991) of loss: of professional expertise, of collective memory, of shared hopes and fears.

This paper introduces a research programme which asks what is lost from a school community once the programme of closure has been agreed and a school moves inexorably towards its final days. In counterpoint to the national Building Schools for the Future programme, this project is informed by earlier work conducted by Whitefield (1980) Molinero (1988), Schmidt (2007) and Picard (2003). This study is thus both timely and of significance to future policy developments: the lived experiences of the community of teachers, families and children during school closure is rarely researched and a great deal of understanding and knowledge remains uncaptured, analysed or assessed.

This study begun as an ethnographic study of the closing months of a single primary school, Centenary Primary School on the Wirral which celebrated its 100th birthday with its imminent closure just months away. It adopts a multi-method research strategy, using both quantitative and qualitative research methods, the latter of which involves a traditional ethnographic approach coupled to an arts based educational research methodology.

One methodological consequence of adopting an arts based approach to the research has been to engage a team of artist researchers. This means that knowledge of the lived experience (van Manen, 1997) of school users can be developed from different perspectives which privilege not only linguistic forms of communication but spatial, musical, and visual: a method we believe is important to the school given its diverse mix of users and participants. It thus may be of use to schools in similar circumstances who wish to effect positive political outcomes during periods of future rationalisations: and in doing so, transform their tiny stories into noisy histories.

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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