This perception can have an impact on Head tenure as well. Statistics show that the longevity of the Head of a school tends to be linked to it size. Heads of small schools, particularly ones with a significant day population, are on the firing line every day. Rather than being insulated from the ebbs and flows of parent satisfaction by a buffering infrastructure, the Head of a small school is seen as the "fixer" of every problem, and expected to be the guarantor of a successful school experience for each child in attendance. As a result, these Heads either burn out and move to another Headship somewhere else, or get forced out by a Board that perceives that the way to get restive parents off of their case is to "take action" - not by looking at the systemic or strategic issues that are usually at the root of most parental concerns - but rather by replacing the Head.
By contrast, at a large school similar complaints or concerns tend to be addressed by adding another layer to the infrastructure. Teacher performance issues? Add a "Director of Faculty and Professional Growth"; behaviour and discipline issues? Create a "VP of Student Life"; A muddled technology plan? Expand the IT department; etc.
Even parents are often seduced by the lure of size. If there is one comment that the Head of a small school can be certain to hear each June, it's "our daughter/son loves it here but we all think that there would be more opportunities in a larger school". This is nothing new. Decades ago, when I was Head of Weston School in Montreal, my Board Chair came in and said that his son would be moving the next year to a bigger high school. When I asked why, he replied, "dances". "I met my wife at a large high school dance, I want him to have the same chance." This is a pretty common refrain. To many parents, their memories of high school centre around sports and their social lives. To them, no matter how successful their child is in a small academic environment, they yearn for them to have the same collateral experiences that they had.
So with all of these facts, in addition to the challenges of delivering competitive programmes and services with considerably less money, why do small schools still exist? The answer is simple. Smaller schools can deliver a level of personal service that often eludes a bigger institution. Every student, every parent, every employee is an important member of the community. Volunteerism is more prevalent; finances are managed with more care and respect; communication is clearer and more direct; and celebrations of success are more personal and heartfelt.
At the end of the day, isn't that what we all want for our school?