'At the heart of the community'

Stephen Munday, principal of Comberton village college, recognises that rural schools tend to be in areas with fewer social problems. But he also believes they have two key advantages: stronger community ties and closer links with feeder schools.

His school lies in a Cambridgeshire village mentioned in the Doomsday Book, which has a population of less than 2,500.

Around 10 per cent of his pupils have special needs, less than 3 per cent are eligible for free school meals and only a "handful" speak English as a second language. This summer 85 per cent achieved five or more A* to C grade GCSEs.

"The figures showing rural schools do better are interesting," said Mr Munday.

"Obviously there are generalisations, and I know there are lots of excellent schools in urban areas. But I think there are two key strengths of rural schools.

"The first is that they have always been strongly rooted in the local community.

"Comberton village college is at the heart of the community. Lots of members of the community use the school facilities. This generates a lot of commitment and creates a powerful, positive image which rubs off on pupils and I think ultimately makes them more committed to their education.

"Secondly, and this probably has a more direct affect on GCSE results, is our strong links with our feeder primary schools. Nine schools provide more than 90 per cent of our pupils so it is easier in terms of continuity.

"Our teachers work closely and teach in the primary schools to ensure continuity in, for example, maths, science and English lessons. This is a clear, strong educational benefit of rural schools. In urban settings, secondary and primary schools tend not to have such close links."

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