Closing the attainment gap in rural and coastal schools

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Sch of Education and Lifelong Learning


The persistent attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their peers is one of the biggest concerns for policymakers and educators today. In 2014, only 33.7% of students who were eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) achieved 5 GCSE grades at A*-C, including English and Mathematics, creating an attainment gap of 27% (Department for Education, 2015b). Recent research indicates that the attainment gap is most severe in rural and coastal areas, although it is not currently known why.

Consequently, this PhD research aims to illuminate this issue by investigating
1. How pupil premium funding is used in rural and coastal schools, and whether this differs according to school type;
2. How the local context informs student identity in rural and coastal areas.


This project will take an exploratory mixed-methods approach (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). I will initially undertake secondary statistical analysis of the demographic and school-level factors that affect students' attainment in coastal and rural areas, using the National Pupil Database. This will be followed by a qualitative investigation of schools' strategies for raising attainment and students' construction of identity.


Phase Details Year of study
Quantitative Statistical investigation using existing large-scale datasets (such as the LSYPE and National Pupil Database) to 1,2
explore the relationship between local demographic factors and student attainment.
Demographic factors will include Polar3, IDACI and OAC group data.
Qualitative (1) Questionnaire pilot study for Senior Leaders responsible for Pupil Premium spending, investigating: 1
a) schools' strategies for identifying and monitoring disadvantaged students
b) strategies for, and use of, Pupil Premium funding. 1
Qualitative (2) Semi-structured interviews with teachers, Senior Leaders and students. The questionnaire data 2-4
from Phase 1 will be used to develop interview schedules.
Participants will be asked to commit to biannual interviews over a three year period.
Qualitative (2a) Interviews with Senior Leaders investigating Pupil Premium spending and strategies. 2-4
Qualitative (2b) Interviews with teachers investigating their experiences of teaching in a rural/coastal area and
their perceptions and expectations of their students. 2-4
Qualitative (2c) Interviews with students will focus on their experiences of education, their expectations and aspirations,
and how these are informed by the local geographical and economic context.
Students will be recruited in Year 7 and Year 9. 2-4


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1788413 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2016 29/04/2024 Jessica Bowyer