Leave a comment
Be the first to add a comment.
Growing up in the bucolic countryside or in a vibrant city can lead to quite different educational attainments. Yet, compared to other departments, the Department for Education (DfE) has been notoriously reluctant to engage with how geography affects education. Last week’s publication of new research on Key Stage 4 (KS4) achievements for children in urban and rural areas signals a welcome change in attitude from the Department. And, although it does not control for other factors that could affect achievement, it does provide an interesting insight into the role of place in educational attainment.
Firstly, the research finds that children from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve better results in big cities. According to the report, there is little difference across geographies in educational attainment for pupils from non-disadvantaged backgrounds. Achievement is lowest in medium-sized cities – places such as Stoke, Doncaster and Derby – and highest in villages, but the difference is small, only 2.5 percentage points. In contrast, achievement levels for children from disadvantaged backgrounds vary considerably across the country: they are highest in large cities – London, Manchester and Birmingham for example – and lowest in villages and the difference, in this case, is 5.8 percentage points.
Secondly, the gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils is smaller in big cities. Big cities are not only the place where children from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve better results, but they are also the places where the gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils is smaller, at 11.9 percentage points. This still holds even when excluding London, which has received additional funding, from the picture. On the other hand, the gap gradually widens when looking at smaller urban areas, and towns, and it is largest in villages where achievement for children from disadvantaged backgrounds is on average 15.5 percentage points lower than that of their better-off peers.
Thirdly, the research finds that children in coastal areas, such as Sunderland and Blackpool, have lower attainment than those in non-coastal areas. In line with recent debates highlighting how our coastal towns are lagging behind, DfE finds that achievement for children living in coastal areas is two percentage points lower than that for those in other parts of the country and that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are 3.1 percentage points worse off in coastal areas.
These findings are an important reminder that geography, as in many other policy areas, plays a key role when it comes to education too.
However, there is more to the discussion than a mere urban-vs-rural story. In a recent study, we found that the relationship between cities and towns is much more complicated than the headline that ‘cities do well, towns do poorly’ and that actually towns in the South East of England, closer to cities with successful economies, tend to do better than towns in the North and Midlands close to weaker city economies.
Does this apply to educational attainment too? Do rural areas in the North and those in the South perform similarly? Or do rural areas in the North look more similar to urban areas in the North but very different from rural areas in the South? And why do we see such differences?
Unfortunately, DfE’s research does not help us to answer these important questions.
Last week’s publication is a great first step in understanding the dynamics between place and educational attainment. If DfE wants to grapple with these complicated questions around geography and improve educational attainment where it’s lowest, more research – and more detail – is required.
Be the first to add a comment.