Educational isolation is complex, grounded in location, situated in access to resources and results in reduced agency for schools. The aim of this report is to provide an understanding of this complexity through a considered definition of ‘educational isolation’ and examination of what this means in practice. The report concludes with focused recommendations for policy makers, funding agencies/organisations and stakeholders, which are aimed at supporting isolated schools in accessing resources for school improvement.
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.plymouth.ac.uk/uploads/production/document/path/11/11623/Coastal_Academies_Report_2015_final_2_Tanya_Ovenden-Hope_and_Rowena_Passy.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.
The Class of 2010: A seven year study of a coastal academy in England
Between 2010–2017, Tanya Ovenden-Hope and Rowena Passy followed the journey of a coastal school that was in the ‘first wave’ of schools required (due to ‘national challenge’ circumstances of underperformance) to convert to academy status with the support of sponsors. The challenges faced by the school due to its coastal and socio-economical disadvantaged location and its new independent status, together with the wide-reaching ambitions of the academy leaders, offered a unique opportunity to document and explore the changes, challenges and successes for students, staff and the school. How would the new academy develop? What challenges would the new leaders face? How would changes be received and experienced by staff and students? Would the curriculum support and engage students? Would being an academy improve school performance?
Academy leaders and sponsors agreed to a seven-year longitudinal study that would include exploring the secondary educational experience of the Year 7 cohort, the Class of 2010, the first students to enter the new academy.
The aims of the study were to:
- explore the senior leadership aims and priorities, and how these might change and develop over time.
- investigate teachers’ perceptions of teaching, learning and assessment within the academy.
- monitor the academic progress of the student cohort that entered the academy as Year 7 in 2010
- understand the educational journey of a sample of 15 Year 7 students.
Each year we visited the academy and interviewed the principal and/or a senior leader, four different teachers of the Class of 2010 and the Class of 2010 students. We also studied the academy’s publicly-available data, examined academy documents and collected the anonymised student cohort data on levels of progress and attainment.
We anticipated that the Class of 2010 project would yield detailed understanding of the development of the academy as a new institution, of the progress and outcomes for this cohort of students, and of staff and student views on the impact of the education offered by the academy. We were interested in the additional challenges schools in areas of socio-economic disadvantage appeared to face and in particular those in coastal regions (see Ovenden-Hope and Passy, 2015 report on coastal academies). Annual reporting of this information to the academy would help to raise the profile of the student and teacher voice, offer the opportunity to report on different strategies and developments, with findings offering the potential to be used to shape internal decisions. In addition, we intended that national and international dissemination of the findings could help to influence thinking on the challenges for other coastal schools and consequential strategic, operational or policy decisions.
Something we did not anticipate, however, was that fundamental changes within the academy would coincide with far-reaching and rapid changes within English secondary education. Two different government administrations and a series of policy directives placed new pressures on the school at a time in which leaders were already implementing extensive changes aimed at the primary measure of school accountability – student performance in formal examinations. This makes the study particularly valuable as a means of illustrating policy impacts at a challenging time in English education.
Further reading related to, or using, our coastal schools research
Ovenden-Hope, T and Passy, R (2015) Report on Coastal Academies: Changing school cultures in England
Future Leaders Trust and Ovenden-Hope (2015) Combatting Isolation in Coastal Schools
Plymouth University (2015) Press Release – Coastal Academies
Forbes (2015) Four Ways Leaders are Transforming Schools
BBC (2015): How do you rescue a seaside town?
Academy Ambassadors (2015) Combatting Isolation in Coastal Schools
Centre for Entrepreneurs (2015) From Ebb to Flow: How entrepreneurs can turn the tide on Britain’s seaside towns
BBC (2015) Why are coastal schools at such a low ebb?
BBC (2015): Tougher primary tests and top teachers in weak schools (Nicky Morgan's speech)
SecEd (2015) Combatting the coastal school challenges
NAHT (2015) Why coastal doesn’t have to mean coasting
Ovenden-Hope, T and Passy, R (2013) Report on Coastal Academies: Meeting the challenge of school improvement
The Class of 2010 Summary Report
We are enormously grateful to all those who participated in our research and gave their time so generously to make our research so interesting and illuminating. Thanks, too, are due to the school governors and leaders who made us so welcome over the extended time needed for this project.
We have written a summary of the project findings – download a copy of the summary report.