Rural schools hindered by unique challenges

Rural schools are struggling to cope with challenges that are specific to their location, according to new research

According to new research by The Key, Schools in rural communities across England are struggling to cope under the pressure of challenges unique to their location.

Just over two thirds (67%) of the rural school head teachers surveyed reported that their small budget, which is linked to low pupil numbers, negatively affects how they can run the school.

Budgets are affected further by location factors beyond the headteachers’ control, including high salaries for staff with much-needed experience, high transportation costs for pupils and “rural poverty”.

Nicola West Jones, head of market research at The Key, said:

“With core funding for schools determined on a per-pupil basis, rural schools that are beset by low pupil numbers and wider socio-economic and infrastructural challenges are finding the demands on their budget aren’t covered by their funding.”

Due to the natural beauty of many of these locations, a lot of ‘local’ families are priced out of the area by retirees and second homers. As a result, 38% of rural heads surveyed have pupils on roll who have to travel as far as 10 miles to get to school. Budgets are being impacted further as a result of transportation costs to facilitate this.

With falling pupil numbers and communities becoming smaller and more dispersed, 42% of respondents said their school is under-subscribed, reducing the funding available to them and increasing pressure on headteachers to keep parents happy with the school. Otherwise, they risk the loss of more pupils.

One rural headteacher told The Key: “There is often a need to walk a diplomatic tightrope with parents. Many schools are not at capacity, so if a relationship with a family breaks down, they often just move their children elsewhere. Approximately 30% of my pupils in years 1 to 6 are mid-year admissions”.

Putting further strain on the budget, nearly half (48%) of those surveyed described their staff body as “very experienced (10+ years of teaching)”. This means high salary costs. Rural school heads find their teachers stay in post for a long time, usually having relocated to the area.

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However, with low pupil numbers, nearly half (45%) of survey respondents reported that all classes in their school are mixed-age. A further 24% have “some” mixed-age classes. This makes recruiting newly-qualified teachers even more difficult, as they do not have the experience needed to support this kind of set-up.

One rural head said: “Experience is important for teaching across year groups. NQTs need to be exceptional to succeed at a school like this – we don’t have the capacity to support them in the way a bigger school would.”

More than nine in 10 (92%) of the heads surveyed said they have a regular teaching commitment, which takes up a lot of time. Furthermore, 81% are also the designated safeguarding lead, and 53% lead a department or curriculum area.

Another rural head commented “I will have to teach 4.5 days a week from September to balance the budget – which is just not achievable.”

A full copy of the report is available here: https://thekeysupport.com/rural-schools-report

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