Rural and coastal schools feel isolated from government support, research finds

Ministers should review how schools bid for government support and intervention to improve access for isolated schools, researchers have said.

A joint report by academics at Plymouth Marjon University and the University of Plymouth found that a lack of access to externally-funded educational interventions can lead to schools in rural or coastal communities feeling isolated.

School leaders in urban schools demonstrated “greater connectivity” to national funding streams than those in rural and coastal schools, and the absence of national funding streams in rural and coastal locations “was seen to exacerbate disparities in school funding”, the research found.

Decades of limited access to school improvement resources has led to educationally isolated schools feeling like they have been forgotten

It is not the first study in recent years to identify problems with education in coastal and rural communities.

In 2016, the Social Mobility Commission published the first ever ranking of English council areas by social mobility, with the results showing that some of the worst areas for improving the prospects of poor children are in more remote parts of the country, rather than in big cities.

Today’s research, which involved a survey of 61 schools and more detailed questioning of a number of case studies, found that not only did institutions in isolated communities struggle to attract a high quality workforce, but they are also much more likely to feel isolated from government social mobility, research and improvement initiatives.

This is despite efforts by ministers to target such initiatives at isolated areas. For example, Blackpool, Hastings and West Somerset are among the DfE’s 12 “opportunity areas”, meaning they get extra funding for school improvement and teacher recruitment.

The report found that despite this targeting of interventions, issues of population density and school remoteness were not factored into the selection process. This “may in some way explain why school leaders in rural and coastal schools may feel more isolated from funded interventions than their urban counterparts”, researchers found.

In a foreword to the report, Stephen Tierney, chair of the Headteachers’ Roundtable and a school leader in Blackpool, warned that “decades of limited access to school improvement resources – high quality workforce, school to school support and funded school improvement interventions – has led to educationally isolated schools feeling like they have been forgotten”.

Stephen Tierney

“They arguably have and it’s time for this to change,” he said.

The report recommended that the government reviews tender documents for national educational interventions “to ensure that educationally isolated school leaders can complete the [tender] within the allocated timeframe, and have access to the technology infrastructure
required to use online portals”.

School performance indicators and judgment criteria should also be reviewed to “include challenges of educationally isolated schools”, it concluded.

 

The full recommendations

For policymakers

    1. Review current education policy in relation to priority areas and target schools, and revise as appropriate.
    2. Consider the implications of educational isolation for school improvement and provide relevant, contextual and focused support to schools that are educationally isolated.
    3. Work with rural and coastal school stakeholders, including the House of Lords Select Committees in these areas, to acknowledge factors affecting educationally isolated schools’ performance.
    4. Recognise the contribution school leaders have made at a local level in solving issues of educational isolation and make sure they are resourced at a national level.

For funding agencies and organisations

    1. Work with school leaders of educationally isolated schools to develop a full understanding of areas that require extra funding to support school improvement.
    2. Review Invitation to Tender (ITT) documents for national educational interventions to ensure that educationally isolated school leaders can complete the ITT within the allocated timeframe, and have access to the technology infrastructure required to use online portals.
    3. Consider the challenges for school leaders experiencing educational isolation and provide specific and/or additional support to enable them to have the capacity to complete ITTs.

For stakeholders

    1. Review all schools’ performance indicators and consequential judgement criteria to include challenges of educationally isolated schools.
    2. Consider the task school leaders of educationally isolated schools have in delivering school improvement and support collaborative practices with other schools locally, regionally and nationally.
    3. Work creatively with schools experiencing educational isolation to maximise the advantages of rural and coastal locations for school improvement, such as learning outdoors.