Chapter 2: Education - a whole life approach
6. The Commission's remit was a broad one, encompassing the full spectrum of education in rural areas, from early years provision, through school to further and higher education and including adult learning. In each, the Commission sought to understand where different issues were faced in rural areas and what solutions there might be to improve access for all.
7. Early years education plays a major role in developing the foundation for lifelong learning and achievement in all children 2 . It is also an area that has developed greatly in the last 15 years and which will continue to develop rapidly, with the move to make Getting it Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) a statutory requirement and the Scottish Government's commitment to increase the number of funded hours provided for 3 and 4 year olds (and some vulnerable 2 year olds) to 600 per year. While not mandatory, there is increasing uptake of early years education and this declines only slightly in rural areas. However, the Commission noted the increased barriers that families in rural areas face in accessing either childcare or early years education. For example, no transport provision is made for early years education and this often means transport to a nursery is a significant undertaking for parents in rural areas. This can lead to a tension in some areas between the need for local community-based provision and a wish to align early years education within a local primary school.
8. The expansion in early years provision is likely to have particular challenges in rural areas and require a review of provision in each area. It is also an opportunity and, if rural areas are not to be left behind, it is imperative that rural communities move to more integrated service delivery. As in urban communities, parents of young children in rural areas have to make childcare decisions which take into account their employment and undoubtedly the childcare options are fewer in rural areas. On many of its visits, the Commission heard of the implications of lack of childcare in rural areas, often meaning that one parent has little option but to stay at home, although this was sometimes accepted as a necessary consequence of choosing to live in a rural area. Informal arrangements between parents sometimes existed and demonstrated rural communities helping themselves, but the fragility and dependence of these arrangements was clearly a limitation on economic activity. Parents in rural areas were very vulnerable to changes in early years provision, and the pattern of what was available influenced their choice of school.
9. In large areas of sparse population, it is difficult for local authorities to predict demand for early years provision. Many rural schools do not have nursery provision, due to historic patterns of provision and low numbers of pre-school children. This is complicated by not being able to assume that parents' preferred provision would always be at their local school as there are no catchment areas for this stage of education. Parents understandably use this flexibility to place children in the facility which fits best with their employment or other childcare arrangements.
10. The Commission has heard evidence from many stakeholders that an integrated approach to early years service provision could make a rural school more sustainable as the existing school could become a community hub for this and possibly a number of other services. In areas where there are few public buildings, rural schools present a great asset and opportunity to base, for example, health visitor and other outreach services close to the community and promote integrated accessible care. Professor Deacon's report Joining the dots: A better start for Scotland's children (2011) recommends that:
… "one of the most meaningful and practical things we could do to really improve the early years of children's lives in Scotland - and support parents and build stronger communities - and indeed make best use of the time and skills of many of our early years professionals would be to work now to develop a new generation of children and family centres across Scotland."
11. This recommendation applies to rural areas as well as urban areas, although different solutions will be required. The Commission believes that accessible early years provision which is well-aligned within the local school catchment area is important for children in rural areas and will help make Professor Deacon's recommendation closer to a reality in these areas. It is likely that adopting a 'community hub' approach to integrating primary and early years education may improve the viability of some small rural schools. Whilst there are challenges associated with different terms and conditions of the workforce, the benefits in terms of efficiency and providing a seamless service for families should be considered. Where numbers are very low or significant distances involved, the Commission suggests that local authorities explore how partnerships with the third sector, already developing in some areas, could help fill this gap for rural communities in an efficient and effective way.
12. The Commission recognises that clarity around the funding source for such a centre and its operation would be required in order to make the business case to keep an 'unviable' school open. It was also noted that an opportunity exists within the current review of Community Planning to share or bank resources from a number of partners to support integrated service provision around agreed priorities such as early years provision.
Local authorities and their partners should ensure that Professor Deacon's recommendation on the importance of children and family centres is realised as much as possible in rural areas, including support for the development of rural schools as community hubs offering integrated early years services either on a permanent or outreach basis.
Local authorities should recognise the importance of accessible early years provision in rural areas and work with their rural schools and other providers to ensure this is available in all areas and aligned with school areas where appropriate.
13. Another service that is more restricted in rural areas is access to before and after school care, often referred to as wraparound care. Wraparound care is increasingly demanded by parents and helps sustain employment. And in rural areas, with likely longer commutes to work, quality childcare or wraparound care linked to school provision can be critical to accessing employment.
14. Expectations for wraparound care varied among the rural communities the Commission spoke to and there was recognition of the difficulties of providing it for low numbers. However, it was clear that some families make the understandable choice to bypass a local school and take their child to a school closer to their employment (reducing their need for childcare), or to a school offering wraparound care, or closer to family members who could assist, and that this can reduce the roll in the more isolated school.
15. There is no legal requirement for local authorities to provide wraparound care and if this service is available (in rural and urban areas) it is usually provided by third sector and private sector partners in conjunction with the local authority. The Commission heard practical examples suggesting that a wraparound or after school facility requires at least eight consistent pupil attendees to be viable and sustainable and it is often difficult to achieve this at small schools. Child minding is another option which plays an important role for many families and can be the only solution when the numbers of children are very low. However in rural areas, identifying child minders and sustaining their employment can also be difficult.
16. It is suggested that local authorities work closely in partnership with voluntary and third sector services to facilitate wraparound care provision where it is viable, and anything innovative to reduce the inequality in provision would be welcome. Where service provision is difficult to sustain, it is helpful to be open with communities about these difficulties so that there is a clear understanding of the risk that the service can only be sustained at particular usage levels.
Local authorities should work closely in partnership with voluntary and third sector services to facilitate viable wraparound care provision in rural areas where there is demand, seeking innovative solutions to support families.
Gullane Primary School (East Lothian)
Providing wraparound care at a 'hub'
Sustaining wraparound care in rural areas can be difficult because of natural fluctuation in the numbers of children regularly accessing the service. In Highland, the Care and Learning Alliance ( CALA), which provides out of school care in a number of locations, has found that the development of a 'hub' out-of-school club has resolved this issue for part of Nairnshire.
Based at a primary school, the out-of-school club delivers its service not only to the children attending that primary school but also to children from two nearby primary schools. While sustaining services across three sites was financially impossible, this 'hub' meets the needs of three local communities and the additional cost of taxi transport for children to the club is carefully monitored against increased fee income. Children benefit from the opportunity to socialise and play with a peer group from outside their own school and parents are provided with an affordable solution to their childcare needs.
Further and higher education
17. The Commission's remit was to look at education from pre-school to further and higher education in rural areas, and the Commission sought to identify specific issues regarding further and higher education in all its evidence gathering. Nonetheless, the Commission's focus was largely on rural schools, given the very specific issues regarding these and the 2010 Act. The Commission acknowledges that it did not have the opportunity to fully engage with the wider issues around higher and further education in rural areas or vocationally sensitive 3 education in rural areas.
18. The Commission noted the extent to which universities and colleges benefit rural areas: through their impact as employers and providers of teaching, training , research and knowledge exchange; and their potential to assist in meeting academic gaps for primary and secondary schools with small pupil numbers.
19. The Commission noted that there are many positive instances of institutions based or dispersed across rural Scotland including the University of the Highlands and Islands with its 13 academic partners located across the north and west of Scotland as well as in Moray and Perth and Kinross; but also Glasgow University and the University of the West of Scotland in Dumfries, Heriot-Watt University in Orkney and Galashiels and the Scottish Rural College in various locations. Equally, the Open University has long provided remote access to higher education opportunities. These have an economic and demographic impact; retaining population in rural areas; attracting inward migration and supporting a community to thrive through skills, knowledge and opportunities. However, locating further and higher education in rural areas can only partly respond to demand in these areas, as some potential students will inevitably require or prefer to access opportunities in urban areas, or will seek these after graduation, perhaps only returning to the rural area decades later. Breaking down barriers so that wider opportunities are available in rural areas is very positive, but should not be expected to curtail individual choices to migrate to different areas.
20. The greatest benefits to communities and learners are likely to flow from a community hub model, where adults can access college and university education at their local school. Co-location can allow both school and learning centre to share and sustain the high quality facilities each require. It can also help embed learning opportunities in the community in a way that is transformative and promotes retaining that activity and the individuals concerned in the community. The Commission noted an example of the transformative impact of tertiary education in a rural area in Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Sleat on Skye, a national centre of excellence in Gaelic Education and an academic partner of the University of the Highlands and Islands, which supports a large number of skilled, well paid jobs and has probably been instrumental in the population turnaround in the area.
21. The Commission recognised that some people feel strongly that the local economy can be supported and sustained by a curriculum that pays attention to local economic opportunities. Historically these often related to land and fishing, but increasingly local economic opportunities relate to renewable energy and services including tourism. The Commission welcomes the work of the University of the Highlands and Islands and other institutions such as Heriot-Watt University in Orkney to deliver platforms of research and learning to support local development. The Commission would encourage higher education institutions to consider possibilities for applied research and teaching in remoter rural locations, using outstation, blended and distance learning approaches. 4
Further and higher education supporting rural schools
22. Further and higher education institutions are beginning to play an important role in supporting the curriculum in small rural primary and secondary schools. Colleges and universities in rural areas are developing increasingly sophisticated distance learning and blended learning techniques to support a wide range of learners and with significant potential to meet a range of local needs while simultaneously enriching those living in rural areas. The Commission visited communities where there were gaps in the secondary curriculum provision due to the low pupil roll limiting the number of teachers and therefore the numbers of subjects which can be resourced. Whilst the Commission recognise that much can be delivered via Glow 5 and other online facilities, it is suggested that further partnership work between further and higher education institutions and local authorities could help fill this gap and ensure further equality of opportunity between rural and urban pupils.
23. The Commission would encourage local authorities and schools to ensure that they are exploring all such opportunities with a view to maximising curriculum coverage in their schools.
Further and higher education institutions, local authorities and schools should work together to provide the widest range of opportunities to young people and adults in rural areas, helping to widen curriculum provision in small rural secondary schools and working to ensure parity with provision in urban areas.
Eilean Donan Castle
The University of the Highlands and Islands ( UHI) Academic Partners support regional schools in a wide variety of ways. For example, West Highland College UHI operates across 10 centres in the West Highlands, serving some of the most remote and sparsely populated rural communities in the Highlands and Islands.
The college works with high schools to provide a range of Skills for Work courses, National Progression Awards and Highers, to support Curriculum for Excellence Senior Phase, and to provide vocational options and choices for pupils which would not be available through the schools themselves. Provision is demand-led, and supported in partnership with Highland Council and Skills Development Scotland.
Delivery mostly takes place in the college's learning centres, although there are occasions when college staff deliver lessons in the local school. Many of the college's centres are adjacent to the local school and community centre or other key community facilities. This enables the full range of secondary and tertiary provision to become accessible in a rural education 'hub', facilitates partnership working and best use of publicly funded resources, and provides local choice and opportunity for learners. It places education at the heart of local communities and contributes to a culture of lifelong learning, which in turn contributes to an up-skilled workforce and sustainable communities.
Dr Crichton Lang, Deputy Principal email@example.com
Provision of university-level education in rural secondary schools
The University of the Highlands and Islands ( UHI) is developing a range of opportunities for senior school pupils to engage in a substantive university curriculum for which they will be awarded credit at SCQF level 7 as a part of their S5/S6 study programme. The university plans to trial several different models of delivery and content based on the specific needs and resources of schools in different areas. These models will feature collaboration between UHI and schools in terms of curriculum design, delivery and assessment, and/or learner support. They will be based on the university's existing approaches to blended learning and networked delivery.
This initiative is particularly relevant to rural schools, where the UHI delivery method uses video and computing technology to link together small numbers of students into academically coherent classes and enable a broad range of options to be made available to remote schools.
Dr Crichton Lang, Deputy Principal firstname.lastname@example.org