Beach with groynes

Report: Isolated coastal schools without excellent heads are failing our children

Oct. 21, 2015

A report (published on Wednesday 21 October) suggests that schools in coastal towns frequently fail to give students a good education because of geographical isolation and industrial decline. Excellent headteachers can change this and create schools where young people can thrive.

These factors combine to create a culture in which students are given limited experience beyond their own town and where they see little value in academic qualifications. As a result, they are underachieving and have been for some years. Today’s report shows that this is not inevitable and can be changed by exceptional headteachers.

Kevin Rowlands is Principal of Oasis Academy Immingham. The town has a population of 11,000 and the academy is its only secondary school. It is 28 miles from Hull, the nearest city, a journey that takes an hour and a half by train.

Kevin said: “Immingham grew up around a dock and its related industries, but this declined during the 1970s. North East Lincolnshire doesn’t have a big population, so there are limited employment opportunities.  Its remoteness makes it hard to recruit teachers.

“Our aim is to encourage aspiration in our students. This includes getting rid of work experience and replacing it with an aspirational ‘careers fortnight’ where students visit universities, attend lectures and complete a dissertation.

“This year more students are doing A-Levels at a nearby college, and choosing more aspirational qualifications. It’s a success to see our young people on a clearer pathway to university.”

Andrew Day became Principal at Northumberland CofE Academy in 2012. The school is 17 miles from Newcastle, a journey that takes 53 minutes by public transport.

Andrew said: “Some of our students come from families with four generations out of work. In 2012 the largest employer in the community, a mining company, shut down.

“We’ve had high-profile visitors – members of the royal family, eminent politicians and sportspeople. Their visits show the children that people care and want them to succeed.

“We raise aspiration through trips abroad, celebrations of student successes and visits to universities – recently three Year 9s went to Edinburgh and all returned wanting to become astrophysicists. In 2015, 51% of sixth formers went on to university – compared to only 27% four years ago.”

Four other heads have shared the ways that they have worked to provide opportunities beyond their immediate community and change local attitudes to education.

Heath Monk, CEO of The Future Leaders Trust, a charity that trains headteachers to lead schools in challenging circumstances, said:

“Many schools in coastal towns face struggles that are different from those of our inner-cities, including long distances from cultural centres, fewer employment opportunities and smaller pools for recruitment. The consequences for young people are much the same: a narrowing of opportunity and a diminution of choice that damages lives and communities. 

“Exceptional headteachers, including many who have joined the Talented Leaders programme and are part of our network, are changing this. We need to find more of these leaders, and I want to hear from any deputy head or headteacher who believes they are ready to make a difference in schools like these.”

Apply for Talented Leaders before 11 December:

To speak to any of the report’s headteachers, Heath Monk or Dr Tanya Ovenden-Hope contact Matt Crowder on  / 020 3116 6386 / 07984 083 441

Download the report here.

Read our mobile-friendly version here.


Combatting Isolation: Why coastal schools are failing and how headteachers are turning them around features four other headteachers working in isolated coastal schools:

  • Nadia Paczuska’s school is 45 minutes by train from Norwich. She rallied community volunteers and local organisations to help repair Meadow Primary Academy’s run-down building.
  • Deb Sutton’s school is on the edge of Southampton and it’s half an hour by bus to the city centre. She employs two community liaison officers to support local families with complex needs. 
  • Phil Humphreys’ school is on Southampton’s western edge and he has restored its reputation by developing teachers and ensuring the school works as a community hub.
  • Craig Avieson’s school is one minute from the beach and forty-five minutes from Norwich. He has changed parents’ attitudes to education and shown them how much their children can achieve.

Evidence from Education DataLab using 2014 data shows Pupil Premium pupils attending coastal schools achieved an average Progress 8 score that was lower than in other schools, and would be below the proposed DfE floor standard for 2016.

More here:    

The Talented Leaders programme recruits exceptional head teachers and outstanding deputy heads who have a proven leadership track record. The initiative will deliver 100 headteachers. They will be deployed in a school for a minimum of three years. Area and school participation in the programme is voluntary, but they will need to meet eligibility criteria which identify those who will benefit most.

Applications for next year’s Talented Leaders programme are now open and successful heads will be matched with their new schools for September 2016.

The Future Leaders Trust has been commissioned to deliver the Talented Leaders programme on behalf of the National College for Teaching and Leadership.

A package of professional support and development will be provided to successful applicants, including a coaching and mentoring programme, dedicated training, expert peer support, and funding to deliver sustainable long term improvements for their school.

Following a rigorous selection process Talented Leaders are now working around the country in schools where educational attainment is lower than pupils deserve.

The Future Leaders Trust also delivers Future Leaders, a development programme for high-potential senior leaders who are committed to leading challenging schools. Since 2006, over 124 Future Leaders have reached headship.

For more information about the Talented Leaders programme please call 0800 009 4142 or contact our schools team.
To contact DfE press office please call 0207 783 8300.

Combatting Isolation: Why coastal schools are failing and how headteachers are turning them around combines recent research with accounts from headteachers leading coastal schools. The heads repeatedly refer to distances from large urban areas, staff recruitment, and a lack of jobs beyond low-skilled and seasonal work as amongst their greatest challenges.