The Influence of Place

New Bridge Group report on geographical isolation and progression to higher education

Driving action to address geographical inequality

Today, the Bridge Group launches a new report on the influence of geographical isolation on progression to higher education. While there has been a welcome increase in attention to geographical inequality by Government and policymakers in recent years, there has been insufficient action to match the rhetoric, particularly regarding improving the availability of data to enable deep insights into the influence of place on school-level attainment and progression to higher education.

The drive to achieve social mobility has meant that wider, structural issues relating to social equality have been overlooked. In the context of thinking about the influence of geographical remoteness, the concentration of policy on ‘fair access’ and ‘widening access’ has taken precedence over more material matters regarding physical access to educational opportunities and the even distribution of resources across the further and higher education sector.

The report is available here

Key findings include:

  • The prevailing model of social mobility is widely regarded as unhelpful for remote communities. It places too much emphasis on supporting young people to achieve highly in school in order to leave their local area for higher education and training and secure a graduate job. This means that communities in remote areas are depleted of highly talented young people who have a vital part to play in energising local cultures and economies.
  • There is a weak evidence base on the relationship between geographical isolation, socio-economic deprivation, school-level attainment, and progression. We have encountered numerous obstacles in trying to redress this deficiency through quantitative data collection and analyses. Since the closure of the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) in 2013, no national body has been responsible for improving the evidence base and there has been little imperative for change.
  • Pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds in rural areas have lower levels of attainment compared to their peers in urban schools.
  • Educational and widening participation interventions are predominantly focused on deprived areas rather than on the location of deprived individuals, often disregarding the dispersed nature of rural poverty. This has a negative effect on those from lower socio-economic backgrounds living in remote areas.
  • Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds living at a distance from higher education institutions, who do not have the option to commute, are faced with more complex decision-making around participation.

Key recommendations

We make practicable recommendations for government, schools, the higher education sector, and third sector organisations to promote change.

These focus on:

  • shifting away from social mobility to a wider focus on achieving social equality;
  • building knowledge and understanding to inform policy to narrow the gap in attainment;
  • increasing widening participation activities in remote communities;
  • promoting flexible and part-time study;
  • and enhancing and extending local higher education provision.

Professor Danny Dorling (University of Oxford and author of report Foreword):

“The recommendations in this report will help to initiate the changes required to begin to mitigate some of the worst effects of the opportunity landscape we have created.”

Dr Sarah Dauncey (Head of Policy, Bridge Group and lead author of the report):

“This report gathers together an array of perspectives and data to identify the barriers to progression faced by young people experiencing financial hardship who live in remote areas. We give voice to the needs and interests of this group of young people who have been overlooked by policymakers, and establish implementable solutions to transform their educational outcomes.”