The hidden inequality of the rural idyll
Rural poverty is the missing piece in the anti-poverty jigsaw, affecting the aspirations and life chances of over 900,000 children in the UK.
ATL believes idyllic images of the countryside hide serious social problems which have created a class divide between rural and city dwellers and indeed within the rural communities themselves, and is committed to breaking the link between poverty and educational disadvantage for every child.
We believe a government focus on social class would lead to more effective anti-poverty policies, and that tackling rural poverty is a vital part of this. ATL therefore demands that government policies and education initiatives include a rigorous rural impact assessment. This should also address the following issues which have a particularly detrimental effect on the life chances of disadvantaged young people in rural areas:
Lack of affordable housing
Families and young people move out of rural areas to where they can afford to rent or buy homes. Fewer children and young people in a community ultimately leads to the closure of schools, which are often at the heart of rural communities, and youth services.
Lack of transport
Distances to schools and colleges serving rural areas require young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to face long journeys on infrequent and expensive public transport, limiting their access to a broad range of education provision.
Lack of investment
Rural schools and colleges receive less funding as they have fewer students, limiting the range of curricular and extracurricular activities on offer and restricting the recruitment and retention of specialist staff.
Lack of public services
The closure of local facilities such as playgroups, youth centres and libraries takes informal education away from young people and reduces vital opportunities for learning and development, particularly for the rural poor.
Lack of employment
Limited apprenticeship and employment opportunities in rural areas mean young people frequently limit their aspirations to 'known' routes within their families, leading to a cycle of disadvantage.
Every child matters?
At ATL, we remain committed to breaking the link between poverty and educational disadvantage for every child. But currently it doesn't seem that "every child matters" because:
the brightest children in Britain's poorest homes are outperformed by the least gifted children from wealthy homes by the age of seven
young people leaving school at the age of 16 without any or with only very limited qualifications are disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds
there are 900,000 children living in poverty in rural areas throughout the UK
the government's anti-poverty initiatives have largely been targeted at urban areas with high concentrations of poor and disadvantaged families
rural poverty remains the missing piece in the antipoverty jigsaw.
There is an urgent need for a fresh debate about social class in relation to educational disadvantage and social mobility. The lack of acknowledgement of rural poverty as a significant and persistent problem is one of the clearest indicators of the government's flawed understanding of social exclusion which currently underpins its anti-poverty initiatives.
There is no recognition of the fact that people living in poverty collectively experience the same range of obstacles which seriously reduce and limit their life chances. A government focus on social class would lead to more comprehensive and effective anti-poverty policies, particularly in relation to education attainment.
ATL is therefore proposing that:
the government focuses on social class in relation to education, to ensure more effective anti-poverty policies
all government policies and educational initiatives should include a rigorous rural impact assessment
there should be a fresh debate about whether and how our education systems in the UK can support social mobility.
Rural poverty is the missing piece in the anti-poverty jigsaw, which crucially affects the aspirations and life chances of over 900,000 children in the UK