Whether children live in rural or urban areas is not a contributing factor in their academic achievements, despite country-dwellers regularly getting better results than their city counterparts, a new study has found.
Researchers trying to discover the cause for the town verses country divide in schools have concluded that the major factors are affluence and social status, not geography.
Rural pupils heavily outperform those living in urban areas - 13 per cent more children with homes in hamlets achieved five GCSEs including English and maths than their counterparts in cities last summer. Forty-nine per cent of urban children got five A*-C grades, including English and maths. This was 55 per cent in rural towns, 61 per cent in villages and 62 per cent in hamlets.
But the report - commissioned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from the National Centre for Social Research - found that rural pupils attending high-achieving schools were unlikely to have any advantage over urban pupils at similar schools, and may even have lower attainment.
This is the first time the differences in rural and urban school performance has been examined in detail by the Government. Researchers interviewed about 15,000 young people for the study and analysed exam results.
They discovered rural children performed better at key stage 3, but this was "largely due" to their "higher social position". The study said these better results could also be because of better performance at primary school.
"We concluded that there are no characteristics intrinsic to rural areas that lead to higher attainment among rural pupils," the study said. "Instead, we found that the higher attainment in rural areas is largely due to greater affluence and might not necessarily affect pupils who are not from affluent backgrounds."
Other official statistics say wages are lowest in rural businesses, and that poverty in the countryside is increasing. About 18 per cent of rural households are classed as being below the "poverty line" - almost the same as those in urban areas.
The study says children from ethnic minorities make less progress if they live in rural areas, especially black African and Indian children.
Researchers recommend "disadvantaged" pupils in rural areas should get additional support to help them achieve.
RURAL FIGHT FOR RESULTS
At South Dartmoor Community College in Devon, which has a wide rural catchment area, teachers have to "fight hard" for good results, according to principal Ray Tarleton.
"When I first came here 20 years ago it was hard to motivate pupils, because they did not see education as a priority," he said. "Often school is their major social experience. It is much more difficult for us to run new qualifications such as the Diplomas, which require links with businesses."
The college provides activities such as abseiling and caving to encourage pupils to work together.