Rural life is being ignored

12th September 2003 at 01:00
It is time for the Government's policy agenda on education to embrace rural schools. Urban education has been prioritised to our detriment. The resulting issues strike at the heart of modern comprehensives.

Driffield school in east Yorkshire is typical of many in rural areas. We have 2,000 students and serve a large region as the only secondary. Many of our students come from isolated communities where there are pockets of significant deprivation as well as relative affluence. We are chronically under-resourced.

Poverty and deprivation in an isolated rural community is at least as debilitating as in a city. Almost certainly public transport and access to support services will be difficult. Schools are in the frontline but cannot benefit from the many initiatives available to urban areas through Excellence in Cities and other funding.

The contradictions go further. In an urban context, the case for specialist status may have logic in terms of parental choice (given adequate surplus places to enable such choice to be exercised). In a rural context it makes no sense.

A school such as Driffield must be seen by the community as a centre of excellence for the entire curriculum across the full ability range. Any lesser aspiration can have no educational validity.

However, across rural areas schools are embarking upon the specialist route, quite openly asserting that they are doing so because they are desperate for funding rather than through a commitment to the specialist philosophy. It cannot be right to change the curriculum ethos of a school for funding reasons alone.

The time is now overdue for a national funding formula for schools based upon a core financial entitlement for every student, plus enhancements for additional need and area cost adjustments. Such a formula must accurately reflect the costs associated with sparcity as well as urban deprivation.

It is time for a rethink on the leadership of the educational agenda. Much government policy is based upon the dual premises that left to their own devices schools do not want to improve, and that without external scrutiny they cannot be trusted to provide robust professional judgments.

Both premises are false. Where a school clearly has a momentum for improvement, results are on an upward trend, performance management systems are robust and self-review is thorough, schools should be trusted.

Like many heads, I am frustrated with a government that promised so much yet still has so much to deliver. I urge ministers to give us the resources we need as an entitlement.

Michael Chapman is headteacher of Driffield school, East Riding, Yorkshire.Contact if you would like to write for the Sounding off column

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