Why research coastal schools?
Massive investment in London has led to its rise as an education superpower, succeeding despite high levels of deprivation. Coastal schools, however (here defined within 5.5km of the coast of England) appear to face continuing challenges that impact on performance (Ovenden-Hope and Passy, 2015). There were signs that in 2012 the Coalition government had begun to recognise the poverty in coastal regions:
‘Many seaside towns and villages have suffered decades of economic decline. Many young people, for example, have moved away from coastal areas due to a lack of job opportunities. We need to invest in coastal towns to help their economies grow and reduce unemployment and deprivation’The schools’ performance watchdog Ofsted (Ofsted, 2013; see also Weale, 2014) identified a link between student performance and ‘deprived coastal towns’, with a realisation that these areas have ‘felt little impact from national initiatives designed to drive up the standards for the poorest children’ (Ofsted, 2013). Yet recent reports by the current government (DfE, 2016) have rejected claims that socio-economically deprived coastal regions face specific challenges in education because of their geography, economies and social contexts. It is therefore reassuring that Ofsted’s Annual Report 2016 identified issues for schools in isolated and deprived areas:
(Department for Communities and Local Government, 2012).
‘There is also considerable evidence that it is schools in isolated and deprived areas where educational standards are low that are losing out in the recruitment stakes for both leaders and teachers’ (Ofsted, 2016).The way in which the current government has categorised and reported data on coastal schools makes these isolated schools (and isolation is not only about geography; it can include isolation from other schools, economic opportunities and wider social experiences) appear to have similar outcomes to other schools (Ovenden-Hope and Passy, 2016). In government data coastal schools as established as a category and compared to the category ‘all other inland schools’, which includes rural and urban schools. When rural schools are taken out of the category ‘all other inland schools’, the remaining schools’ data suggests a difference when compared to coastal schools’ data (DfE, 2016). There are
similarities in the issues reported on coastal and rural schools:
‘In terms of intake and performance, coastal schools appear to face comparable challenges to other schools that are similarly isolated and deprived’ (Centre Forum, 2016).
The figures also show that coastal schools have a more deprived intake, with 3% more pupils eligible for free school meals - a figure similar to the achievement gap. There are exceptions, however. The SchoolDash data shows that places such as North Tyneside and Lancashire coastal schools outperform their inland counterparts, and there are some coastal areas which are conspicuously affluent. But the national picture shows a trend of overall lower performance in coastal schools. Thomson (2015) reported that there was a lower rate of relative progress from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4 among Pupil Premium pupils attending coastal schools, predominantly white British pupils in disadvantaged areas.
As Ofsted Chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has articulated, problems for schools can stem from "isolation", and he acknowledged last year that as well as being physically isolated, too often coastal schools are cut off from the help they need (access to school to school support and professional development opportunities) and the pressure to do better (local competition).
‘These schools [coastal] are deprived of effective support when times are bad. They are left unchallenged when they flirt with complacency’ (Michael Wilshaw, cited in Weale, 2015).Little has been done in the last year to address the wider political issue of parity in education. Schools outside London and some other cities have not received government support, resource or investment to challenge intergenerational underachievement. Children from white British socio-economically deprived backgrounds do better in London and the cities than they do in coastal towns and deprived areas. It is helpful that the Ofsted Annual Report (2016) raises the issue of isolated schools again, however until economic and educational resources are allocated according to school need, then the gap in performance and issues with teacher and leader recruitment will continue.
The cause of gaps in attainment in isolated communities is more complex than low income, as the data for the Isle of Wight shows (similar pupil premium numbers to the national average, yet specific coastal schools have significant underperformance). Poor teacher and leadership recruitment to schools in these areas is a response to the full isolation of schools situation - economic, geographic, social and educational.
Centre Forum (2016) Education in England: Annual Report 2016. London, Centre Forum. Online: http://centreforum.org/live/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/education-in-england-2016-web.pdf.
Department for Communities and Local Government (2012) Policy: Supporting economic development projects in coastal and seaside areas. London: DCLG.
Department for Education (2016) Schools workforce in England 2010 to 2015: trends and geographical comparisons. September 2016. London, Department for Education. Online: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/550970/SFR44_2016_text.pdf
Ofsted (2016) Ofsted Annual Report. London, Ofsted.
Ofsted (2013) Inspections of Schools, Colleges and Children’s Services. London, Ofsted. Online: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/too-many-of-englands-poorest-let-down-by-education-system.
Ovenden-Hope, T. & Passy, R. (2016) ‘The Challenge of School Improvement in Coastal Regions in England’, in symposium ‘Recruitment, Retention and Region: The new three R’s challenging education in England’ Howson, J., Ovenden-Hope, T., Passy, R. and Gorard, S. British Educational Research Association Conference, Leeds University, September 2016.
Ovenden-Hope, T. & Passy, R. (2015) Changing Cultures in Coastal Academies. Cornwall; Plymouth University, The Cornwall College Group and the Academies Enterprise Trust. Online: https://www.cornwall.ac.uk/documents/reports/Coastal%20Academies%20Report_2015_final_2%20Tanya%20Ovenden-Hope%20and%20Rowena%20Passy.pdf.
Thomson, D (2015) The pupil premium group in coastal schools is their rate of progress really any different to schools with similar intakes. Education DataLab. Online: http://educationdatalab.org.uk/2015/04/the-pupil-premium-group-in-coastal-schools-is-their-rate-of-progress-really-any-different-to-schools-with-similar-intakes/
Weale, S. (2014) Ofsted to warn on rising number of pupils taught in failing secondaries, Guardian, 10 December. Online: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/dec/10/ofsted-warns-rising-number-pupils-taught-failing-secondaries.
Weale, S. (2014) Out in the cold: the coastal schools neglected by national initiatives, Guardian, 15 October. Online: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/oct/15/coastal-schools-neglected-by-national-initiatives.