The aim of this report was to investigate the factors which effect poverty in rural education. The research was commissioned by the regional educational consortia ERW and GwE in February 2016 and was an 18 month study which completed in October 2017.
Data presented in this research report was collected during the 2016-2017 academic year and data from 32,831 pupils, teachers, school managers and local authority officers are presented in five separate phases of the mixed method research. Phase 1 was an explorative qualitative study to gather perceptions of school managers with particular regard to rurality, poverty and educational attainment. Phase 2 of the research was based on the Phase 1 findings, being comprised of a quantitative investigation which adopted a multi-level framework to examine predictors of educational attainment in Key Stages 2 and 4. Phase 3 of the research was a stakeholder consultation with children and young people, where the ‘Plickers’ rapid response classroom polling app was used to collect and collate data about perceptions of poverty; this involved a total sample of 140 children and young people at Key Stages 2 and 4 in mostly rural schools. Phase 4 of the research involved a stakeholder consultation with local authorities. Twelve local authorities servicing the counties and schools where ERW and GwE are responsible for School Effectiveness and Improvement Service, were invited to participate in the research to answer a focused questionnaire on a range of issues relating to anti-poverty themes, education planning and evaluations within their local authority. This penultimate phase informed us further, particularly on the research objectives of extending knowledge on needs emanating from poverty, and the aspirations and perceptions of children in education in Wales. Phase 5 was an extended consultation with school managers using Hwb Cymru to host an on-line survey as a method for gathering the views of 107 school managers from mixed primary and secondary schools across 12 Welsh counties.
In Phase 1, 12 qualitative emergent themes stemmed from the face-to-face semi-structured interview data and these are discussed in the summary of Phase 1. In Phase 2, national and local government databases were analysed in a multi-level framework and emergent relationships between pupil level and school level predictors and their effect on primary educational outcomes at Key Stages 2 and 4 are described in two models. In Phase 3, children and young people were consulted about their views on poverty and educational attainment. There was also clear evidence of a need to ensure that children are nourished well enough to concentrate in school and beyond. It was found that poverty diminishes the enjoyment of school experiences, especially through participation with peers, and that there seems to be a need to provide support for mental well-being, enjoyment and more beneficial social environments, suggesting a need for anti-stigma initiatives and counselling options. Not only will this assist with tackling worries from home, and any low aspirations, it may assist with barriers commonly experienced by pupils, e.g. with the pressures of attainment targets. It is also clear that a blaming culture causes difficulties for those in poverty, throughout the education system, from the top down. In Phase 4, the evidence suggests that local authorities were unclear about their role in tackling poverty as anti-poverty leads/champions were hard to reach. The research suggests that there appears to be a lack of a single point of accountability for tackling poverty within local authorities. In Phase 5, more school managers were asked about their opinions in via a Hwb Cymru on-line survey with an opportunity to provide written comments at the end. Most of the comments presented by the school managers echoed what was found in Phase 1 of the research, but with hidden deprivation highlighted. A clear theme arising from these responses was the inadequacy of FSMs as a measure of poverty, for either the schools or the individuals involved. Although most proffered their desire to meet unmet pupil needs, it was perceived that the potential to find creative solutions to the difficulties created, such as anti-stigma initiatives, was restricted; difficulties identified, such as low aspirations, the engagement of both parents and children with children’s learning, and wider issues of community pride and well-being, were severely compromised by a lack of resources and the exigencies of external judgments, regulations and processes.
In conclusion, the research found that there are multiple factors which affect educational attainment and poverty is only one of these factors. In Phase 1, school managers discussed what schools are doing to tackle disadvantage and poverty within rural school settings in Wales to reduce the inequalities in education between those who are living in deprivation and those who have more means. One of the main findings for Phase 1 was that effort and pragmatic initiatives from teachers aid the engagement of disadvantaged pupils. However, school managers were concerned that teacher initiatives were being supressed by heavy workloads. Phase 2 showed that rurality does not confound the effects of poverty and issues such as additional learning needs, attendance and poverty are substantial predictors of educational attainment. Phase 3 findings added to the evidence that poverty impacts on children and young peoples’ experience and enjoyment of education in school. Phase 4 provided evidence that there seems to be a disparity between national policy directive on tackling poverty and how this is facilitated locally through local authorities. Dialogue and synergy between research based policy and policy implementation should have a pragmatic application but limited evidence of this was found. Phase 5 provided further evidence to reinforce the themes found in Phase 1. School managers from across 12 local authorities in Wales provided comments illustrating tackling poverty is a complex issue, and should include engagement with: cultural issues, the aspirations of parents, the culture of benefits and the need to recognise and understand that many parents work long hours in low paid jobs in Wales and have limited time to spend with their children. In turn, this places considerable restrictions on their capacity to undertake educational type activities outside of the classroom setting.
Summary of recommendations
1. It is recommended that tackling poverty is a partnership between the school and the home. School managers should continue to work closely with engaging with parents to encourage them to believe that education begins at home. Current government initiatives to promote this idea should continue.
2. It is recommended that further quantitative longitudinal analysis from the end of the foundation phase would be invaluable in disentangling effects of some of the key factors on attainment. Funding to conduct this type of longitudinal research is needed.
3. It is recommended that consideration should be given to how poverty diminishes the enjoyment of school experiences, especially through participation with peers, that more resources should be available to provide support for mental well-being, anti-stigma initiatives and counselling options. Not only will this assist in reducing worries from home, and any low aspirations, it may assist with barriers commonly experienced by students, e.g. pressures of attainment targets.
4. It is recommended that local authorities should employ poverty champions rather than many employees in different departments working on different aspects of anti-poverty as an ‘add-on’ to their existing posts with no real certainty regarding how to tackle the issue on a strategic level.
5. It is recommended that social services are still needed to cooperate with families in need of support. Funding to tackle poverty should focus on empowering children and young people to value the long-term benefit of education.