Introductory piece for the FED conference on rural, small and coastal schools


I started teaching in 1979. I can remember distinctly the primary school hall filled with buckets when it rained. I certainly recall the 48 children I taught in what was Junior 4 but is now Year 6. I also recall never seeing the headteacher at all, or another senior manager see me teach during my first year. I also recall teaching a simple science lesson and it landing really well. It was exploring what happened when you covered a lighted candle with a glass. It wasn’t considering nuclear fusion or photosynthesis; two topics I was not taught during my schooling or training to be a teacher, in fact I didn’t receive one lecture on how to teach science. The children were amazed when the candle died. I recall going to the staffroom and explaining how well the lesson went. One experienced teacher said that the children were excited because they had never been taught science before! I also recall having freedom to teach whatever I wanted and the chances of seeing a school inspector were virtually zero! Ah, the good old days, or not.

Now things have obviously progressed and there has been incredible progress made in how we teach children, how we lead and manage teams of teachers and support staff, how we fund schools and how we analyse what is working well and what isn’t working so well. This is real progress and I am in awe of the work currently being undertaken in our schools. We have had recessions, Global pandemics, national disasters, changes of government and countless other things that could easily have knocked our schools off their core work. But, despite all of these events and the various challenges to pedagogy, funding and leadership approaches we still have countless schools achieving extraordinary things for their children and young people.

However, in all of this there is a word that is incredibly important and that is ‘context’. The context of a setting, school, class, individual are all important in understanding why things are as they are and what needs to change to improve things and also how best to make those changes. The word ‘context’ was first found being used in the Middle Ages and comes from the Latin ‘textus’ which relates to ‘text, structure’ or the weaving of cloth’.  The reference to the weaving of a cloth seems so apposite because the location, history, current challenges and the individuals within any school will ensure that the woven cloth (if that’s what educators are delivering) will vary from one place to another.

Too often policymakers have not taken this into account when considering how change can be proposed, delivered and supported. We all seek improvement but the context of schools serving rural and coastal communities and those of small schools need to be highlighted more. It is shameful that too often the outstanding work undertaken in these schools is not understood well enough and not given credit for what has been achieved.

Well, this afternoon the focus moves to these communities and these settings. A non-political discussion is required so that we can firmly identify what needs to happen to ensure all of our schools and the children and young people in them can succeed. 

We will consider in detail 

  1. Cultural Isolation
  2. Recruitment & Retention
  3. Socio-economic Disadvantage
  4. Post-16 Pathways/ Talent Pipeline 

Let’s not forget, many are doing amazingly well but we must also recognise it is not a level playing field and context is relevant for institutions and families. So, the challenge has been set by the FED. What needs to change or done better to ensure all children and young people get the chance in life they all deserve? And just as important, ensures we have young people coming through who can achieve what they want to achieve, can help make our country for all more prosperous and inclusive.


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