The Small School Rural Community Study focuses on the relationship between small rural schools and their communities in Northern Ireland. The study is being conducted in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work in Queen’s University Belfast by the Principal Investigator of the Study, Professor Carl Bagley, and Dr Montserrat Fargas-Malet.
Worldwide, rural schools are often viewed negatively because of the challenges they face due to their geographical isolation and small size (with declining student and staff numbers). Despite that, researchers have found that rural schools are able to play a critical role in the economic life of a community; serve as a meeting place; and be the ‘social glue’ that keeps the local community together. The context of rural schools in Northern Ireland is particular to the region. Small rural schools in NI have been considered as less desirable than bigger urban schools, and they are facing a risk of closure or amalgamation. In 2019/2020, there were 198 rural primary schools that had less than 105 pupils enrolled, two of which closed their doors in August/Sept 2020. The remaining 196 schools differ in a wide range of aspects, including their ethos and type of provider (i.e. Controlled, Maintained, integrated, Irish language), whether they are located in a deprived or well-off community, or their remoteness.
The main issue concerning this study is the relationship between small rural schools and their communities in Northern Ireland. This is a two-way relationship, so we want to find out:
1. What is the role of small rural schools in their communities? How do they serve the community they are situated in? and
2. How do rural communities affect small schools’ dynamics and shape the schools’ circumstances and characteristics?
We want to find out how much small rural schools ‘glue’ and bond people together, in conjunction with other institutions such as the parish church/chapel, community groups, the Orange Hall in Protestant communities, and sports organisations, particularly Gaelic Athletic clubs (GAC) in Catholic communities. What is the relationship between these organisations and the schools? How do these dynamics differ in different rural communities across Northern Ireland?
Click below to download our first presentation on the study.