Rural schools

Policy makers, funding agencies, organisations and stakeholders should review their practices and funding mechanisms to support schools that are educationally isolated, a new report suggests.

Educational Isolation: A Challenge For Schools In England is based on nine years of research, and work with schools facing challenges caused by their location, carried out by researchers linked to the Plymouth Institute of Education.

It defines the concept of educational isolation and examines what it means in practice to isolated schools, arguing that it is complex, grounded in location and access to resources, and results in reduced agency for schools.

The aim of the report is to provide an understanding of this complexity and recommend a series of measures to support isolated schools in their challenges in relation to school improvement.

Professor Tanya Ovenden-Hope, Professor of Education at Plymouth Marjon University and a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Plymouth, said:

“The challenges of schools’ geographical location, socioeconomic conditions and/or cultural opportunities and diversity in the community were identified by rural and coastal school leaders in our research to a much greater extent than by those in urban schools. Schools reported that the high cost of travel and long journeys to their geographically remote location had a negative effect on teacher recruitment and retention. Teacher recruitment and retention is an issue of great concern and recognising and supporting the needs of educationally isolated schools may help with this workforce challenge.”

In the report, rural and coastal school leaders indicate high levels of seasonal and poorly-paid employment in coastal and rural areas, and that these employment conditions were seen to limit young people’s expectations from employment and reduce their motivation to work hard at school. Leaders also report their isolation from large-scale, innovative employers who would provide practical support for work in schools.

Dr Rowena Passy, Senior Research Fellow in Post Primary Educational Development, added:

“The absence of sound employment prospects, particularly when combined with austerity measures, was seen to have a devastating effect on socioeconomically deprived and isolated communities, including the schools within them.”

Cultural isolation in rural and coastal schools is identified in the report, with school leaders stating that they invest considerable time, money and effort in introducing children to different ethnicities and lifestyles; drawing comparison with more populated areas that have a diverse population in which cultural diversity is part of everyday life.

The report recognises that part of the complexity of educational isolation is that it is experienced by schools in different ways and therefore presents a definition that is purposefully broad to encompass the many combinations of challenges of location and limited access to educational resources. It recognises that these challenges may not result in educational isolation if schools have access to the necessary resources for school improvement. Urban inner-city schools can have high levels of socioeconomic disadvantage, but the research shows that they generally have greater access to resources that support school improvement. A geographically remote location can limit school access to resources for improvement, compounding issues of socioeconomic disadvantage.

The report states that the key resources for educationally isolated schools that are limited by the challenges of location are a high quality school workforce, school support and externally funded interventions. Coastal and rural school leaders identified greater difficulties with all types of staff recruitment and retention than urban schools. Rural and coastal schools indicated higher levels of isolation in terms of teacher continuing professional or leadership development. School leaders from urban schools demonstrated greater connectivity to national funding streams than those in rural and coastal schools. The absence of national funding streams in rural and coastal locations was seen to exacerbate disparities in school funding.

Professor Ovenden-Hope added:

“We have seen school leaders of educationally isolated schools work tirelessly to find solutions to accessing resources that have been limited by the schools’ location. These school leaders have created opportunities for their students where it is possible to do so.”

Dr Passy concluded:

“Our recommendations in this report are therefore to policy makers, funding agencies, organisations and stakeholders and are intended to support schools in accessing resources for school improvement.”

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