Work together and be innovative says Rural School report
Small rural primary schools must form effective partnerships and collaborations if they are to survive into the future and continue to be a vital part of rural community life, says a new report published by the Church of England.
Working Together released by the Church of England's National Education Office says that rural schools are one of the state's last remaining points of contact with rural communities and they have a key role in rural life. But it warns that the days of the individual autonomous small school are numbered as they face financial challenges particularly with likely changes to the way schools are funded and falling rolls in rural areas.
The Church of England is responsible for more than 50% of the 4146 small rural schools in England (with less than 210 pupils*) as 200 years ago it set out to offer education to all when the landscape was very different.
The report points out the benefits of collaboration with other schools, creating formal partnerships and shares case studies from around the country where this has successfully been done. It also notes that few rural schools have the capacity to convert to academy status without support - and says the Church of England already has support structures in place with diocesan Multi Academy Trusts (MATs).
Michael Mill, Director of Education, Children and Young People for the Diocese of Carlisle said: “The warnings contained in this report are very pertinent to us here in Cumbria.
“The Diocese of Carlisle has 105 schools across our county. Sixty of them have fewer than 100 pupils on roll. We are continuing to explore what best collaborative practices can be adopted as we move forward.
“Rural schools are facing increasing budgetary pressures and more emphasis on a partnership approach will help alleviate that. The Church of England report recognises the need for structural collaboration and the formation of our Multi Academy Trust – The Good Shepherd provides one way forward.”
The report also suggests proactively using parts of the school building for other services including post offices, community centres, nurseries and even relocating the church.
It goes on to issue a 'dare to be different' challenge to schools to in their teaching approach: one example is introducing virtual learning already working effectively in the Scottish Highlands and parts of Australia and New Zealand.
The report faces hard questions and sets out helpful checklists for governors and Diocesan Boards of Education to map a way forward for their rural schools. It states that there is a still a government presumption against closure, saying any cases must be strong "and in the best interests of the overall education provision for an area."
The Rev Nigel Genders, the Church of England's Chief Education Officer, said: "In the current education landscape small rural schools face some tough challenges which are not simple to resolve and are often expressed in negative terms. This report is about suggesting a range of collaborative and innovative ways forward for these schools, which clearly have a key role in rural life, while not shying away from the difficult questions."
The Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard, Chair of the CofE's Board of Education said: "Rural schools, like our country churches, are the vital heartbeat of the countryside. Partnership has to be the way forward. In the Diocese of Oxford, for example, we are seeing imaginative schemes such as the one in Bletchingdon, where a new school - which will also house community village facilities - is being built on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, alongside affordable rural housing, to the benefit of all. I hope this report will inspire other such creative partnerships to help our rural schools thrive."
Notes to editors
More information on Church of England schools at https://www.churchofengland.org/education/church-schools-academies.aspx
More information about The Good Shepherd Multi Academy Trust at http://www.thegoodshepherdmat.co.uk
For further information please contact Dave Roberts, Diocesan Communications Officer, on 07984 927434 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Ven Richard Pratt on 01900 66190.