RSN Priority - A place to learn and grow

Rural schools typically play an important role at the heart of their community and provide a high quality education. It is imperative that education policies – focussed on the needs of children – support them and help them to face particular rural challenges.

  • There are roughly 5,300 schools located in rural areas. This represents almost 27% of the total number of schools across England (2014 data). Some 53% of Church of England primary schools are located in rural areas.
  • A large proportion of rural schools are small. More than 33% can be defined as ‘very small’, having fewer than 110 pupils, whilst another 29% can be defined as ‘small’, having between 110 and 209 pupils. Comparators for urban schools are 5% and 16% respectively.
  • School running costs (per pupil) increase as school size shrinks and they rise sharply where schools have fewer than 50 pupils. Core costs, such as teaching salaries, energy bills and catering, are all typically above average in rural schools. Home to school transport costs are many times higher in rural than in urban areas.
  • Many rural schools have older buildings which are expensive to run and maintain. A large number have nineteenth century and some have Listed Buildings. High ceilings can make them expensive to heat.
  • Pupils from rural communities travel further to school than their peers who live elsewhere. Those from small rural settlement travel an average of 3.4 miles to a primary school and 7.0 miles to a secondary school.
    Sources are: Church of England Education Office (2014 data), Cumbria County Council (2018 data), Hampshire County Council (2016/17 data), Defra (2014/15 data) and The Key (2018 survey).
  • The top challenges identified by head teachers of rural schools were (in order of priority) :
    • Not having sufficient funding,
    • Maintaining or improving pupil performance
    • Providing for pupils with special educational needs or disabilities and meeting the needs of all their pupils.
  • Teaching and support staff in rural schools frequently need to multi-task, as a result of the (small) school size. For the same reason many pupils at rural schools are taught in classes with mixed age groups.
  • In a 2018 survey most rural school head teachers identified that they have pupils from poor families whose incomes lay just above the threshold which would have earned them the pupil premium grant (or top up funding).
  • Small schools with few staff can find it harder to offer a broad curriculum or after school enrichment opportunities, such as music and sports. They may address this by collaborating with other nearby schools, though this typically involves some extra travel for pupils.

Rural schools often benefit from having experienced staff and most of them perform well, if measured against pupil achievements at key stages or in exam results. However, there are significant challenges which should be addressed by a Rural Strategy. They are:

    • Sustaining schools with small (or fluctuating) pupil numbers;
    • Managing school budgets when operating costs are high;
    • Recruiting and retaining teaching and support staff; and
    • Finding appropriate models for school collaboration.
Click here to find out more about our priority areas, challenges to address and what steps may make a difference for rural communities


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