From education to employment


Report warns that rural youths have less choice of FE institutions

Young people living in rural areas are losing out on vital access to education and skills development, according to the State of Rural Services 2016, a new report published today highlighting the contraction of rural public and private sector provision in England.

The research by Rural England CIC finds that more than three fifths of pupils in England’s rural areas cannot reach a secondary school by public transport or on foot in a ‘reasonable travel time’ – a figure that would be lower still if it referred only to schools with a sixth form – while only half can get to an FE institution.

While quieter areas skew towards an older population, some 14.7 per cent of England’s rural population is aged between 15 and 29, meaning that this patchy provision has a significant impact.

The report highlights the fact that the share of the working age population with at least a level 3 qualification is lower in rural areas, and notes the numerous challenges facing those in remote towns and villages if they wish to upskill. For example, access to an apprenticeship in a rural area is made more difficult because of the paucity of public transport networks and the absence of locally-based larger employers.

In addition, not only are they generally living further away from colleges than their urban peers, the absence of a statutory concessionary travel scheme means that reduced price travel for FE students is patchy and subject to change. State of Rural Services 2016 finds that learners in rural areas spent about £18 a week on travel, compared with an outlay of about £15 a week in urban areas (a 20 per cent rural premium).

The report also finds that many rural areas lack good broadband connectivity, which would prevent younger residents from taking advantage of online learning. More generally, it highlights increasing pressure on already-squeezed public services in rural areas such as GPs and mental health services. The report warns of a worrying evidence gap regarding rural services and calls for more evidence to be gathered to assess the full picture.

Margaret Clark CBE, Chair of Rural England’s Stakeholder Group, said: ‘The State of Rural Services 2016 Report collates and lays out recent evidence about the provision of services to residents and businesses in rural England, with worrying findings across transport, education, social care and retail. When it comes to access to further education and skills development, rural areas are suffering due to difficulties and poor transport services.’

Kirstie Donnelly, Managing Director City & Guilds, said: ‘Rural England’s findings raise some significant concerns about access to further education outside our major towns and cities. Everyone, regardless of where they live, should have the chance to improve their skills and access great careers. The current Government has taken some really positive steps to enhance the skills system and raise the profile of apprenticeships in recent months. But the sad reality is that we are seeing signs of a reduction in learning opportunities for many young people across the country, with access to post 16 education under threat from college mergers or closures resulting from the ongoing Area-Based Reviews. As this report shows, learners in rural areas already face a number of obstacles in accessing training or apprenticeships. It’s crucial that policymakers consider how they can help people overcome them, rather than creating new barriers.

‘We know through our partnership with the Land Based Colleges group Landex that young people often aren’t even aware of the opportunities available to them in the land-based careers that proliferate the British countryside. We need better careers advice to ensure that young people in rural areas understand the full range of great careers that are available to them right on their doorsteps. This will also be crucial post-Brexit, to ensure that employers in rural areas are able to access the talented workforces they require.’

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: ‘The education and training of young people is vital for boosting local economic growth. AoC believes that students should be able to access the college with the best education and training that they want and need, not just making the decision based on the cheapest bus or train fare. We believe that existing arrangements for local authorities to provide financial support for transport to young people accessing education and training could be significantly strengthened. We hope that the Bus Services Bill, currently going through Parliament, will move towards that.’


About Rural England CIC

§    Rural England is a Community Interest Company (CIC) that has been established to bring together rural networks and to improve the rural evidence base, by sharing knowledge and carrying out independent research. 

§    It aims to stir policy debate and inform policy making about rural issues.

§    It works with a wide range of stakeholders and has a governance structure which is designed to ensure that it operates independently of any interested party.

State of Rural Services 2016

The report covers nine service areas – local buses and community transport, welfare services, access to cash, Further Education, the retail sector, mental health services, older people’s services, public health services, and community assets. Findings include:

Local buses and community transport

§  Rural residents travel longer distances and spend more time travelling than their urban counterparts – 394 hours over a year, compared with 366 for urban residents.

§  Rural residents are more likely to use a car than their urban counterparts, but around one in nine rural households have no car and are dependent on other means of transport.

§  Rural households spend a large share of their disposable income on transport (12.5 per cent or £91.20 per week, at 2013 prices, compared with £64.60 per week for urban households)

§  Across non-metropolitan (or shire) areas local authority funding support for buses was cut by eight per cent in the last financial year and by almost 25 per cent over the last four years.

§  In 2015/16 124 local bus services were withdrawn altogether and 248 were reduced or otherwise altered across England, with the largest cuts in shire areas.

§  A third of community transport schemes operate in rural areas (more than 600 in all), where passengers made eight million journeys.

Welfare services

§  Around 60 per cent of rural residents live more than five miles away from a Jobcentre – in urban areas 95 per cent of people live within five miles. At last count there were only three located in villages, hamlets or isolated dwellings.

§  In the most sparsely populated rural areas, 30 per cent of benefits claimants live more than 10 miles from an advice supplier such as Citizens Advice and Age UK.

§  Only 64 of England’s 1,015 debt advice suppliers are located in rural settlements.

Access to cash

§  124 of the bank branch closures during 2014 were of the last branch in their neighbourhood, particularly affecting rural town and coastal communities.

§  In 2010 just 30 per cent of households in villages were within two and half miles of a bank or building society branch – a number that has likely declined given the rate of branch closures.

§  Almost 99 per cent of the rural population lives within three miles of a post office outlet.

§  When last analysed, 11 per cent of cash machines were in rural settlements. In rural villages a quarter of households lived more than two and half miles away.

Further Education

§  The share of the working age population with at least a level 3 qualification is lower in rural than in urban areas.

§  Rural users have less choice of FE institutions they can reach. Only half can get to a FE institution by public transport or walking in a ‘reasonable travel time’.

§  Less than 40 per cent of rural users can get to a secondary school by public transport or walking in a ‘reasonable  travel time’ (a figure which would be lower still if it referred only to schools with a sixth form).

§  Due to the absence of a statutory concessionary travel scheme, reduced price travel for FE students is therefore patchy and subject to change.

§  Learners in rural areas spent about £18 a week on travel, compared with about £15 a week for learners in urban areas (a 20 per cent rural premium)


§  The average rural consumer would need to drive for nine minutes to reach their nearest convenience store and would need 16 minutes to reach it by walking or public transport. The average urban consumer can reach one in about seven minutes by either mode of travel.

§  The average rural consumer would need 32 minutes to reach their nearest town centre by public transport – this is 17 minutes for the average urban consumer.

§  Rural consumers may be held back by poor broadband connectivity, while innovations, such as parcel shops and self-service parcel lockers, are largely in city locations.

§  In 2014 there were 325 community shops open and trading across the UK, of which 277 were in rural England. This number has grown steadily.

Mental Health services

§  Farmers have the largest number of suicides of any occupational category.

§  Analysis shows that mental health service provision is consistently more restricted in NHS Trust areas classified as rural, when compared with those that are urban. Issues include fewer professional staff, the infrequency of home visits, poor access to in-patient facilities and a lack of alternative care options.

§  There are fewer doctors, nurses, social workers and therapists per head working in rural areas.

§  Patients in rural Trust areas receive less contact with professionals and fewer patient bed days are available.

Older people’s services

§  Those aged 65 and over comprise 23 per cent of the rural population, higher than the 16 per cent of the urban population. The ageing of the population is fastest in rural areas.

§  Average journey times for households to reach GP surgeries are also longer in rural areas -just over nine minutes by car and almost 18 minutes by public transport or walking. This does not take account of the frequency of public transport

§  11.6 per cent of all rural residents (or more than one in nine) were providing unpaid care.

Public health services

§  Some services are delivered at GP surgeries. 56 per cent of rural households have ‘reasonable access’ to a GP surgery by public transport or walking, implying that 44 per cent do not.

§  Funding for public health services is significantly lower in rural than in urban local authority areas. Allocations per resident in 2014/15 were £27 in East Riding of Yorkshire, £28 in Rutland, £29 in Devon and £31 in Cumbria, compared with an England average of £51 and as much as £133 in inner London boroughs.

Community assets

§  A 2014 survey of community organisations with an interest in community assets found that 16 per cent operated in rural areas and a further 20 per cent in mixed rural/urban areas.

§  England has almost 10,000 village halls and rural community buildings, run by volunteer management committees. In 2014 these were estimated to have a combined asset value in excess of £3 billion.

§  By 2014 the number of community-owned shops across England had grown to 277, with 119 still at the planning stage. It would appear most of these are in rural areas.

§  There are now 170 Community Land Trusts in England and Wales, roughly half of which have formed in the last two years and most of them serving rural areas.

§  There are 43 UK pubs operating as co-operatives. 28 of these are located in rural England.

Related Articles