Yesterday I visited a wonderful school in North Wheatley. It is small with just 61 pupils. There are just 2 classes – so the challenge of teaching across age ranges as well as ability ranges is great. There was a wonderful atmosphere; friendly, family feel about the whole place. The head teacher, and staff are clearly passionate about offering the best education they can to the children – and are succeeding in doing so. This is a church ‘controlled’ school; there is a clear Christian ethos seen in the displays as well as the curriculum delivery. In this particular setting rural poverty is not a key issue. But overall poverty for children in rural areas is a major factor.The Commission for Rural Communities published a very helpful and challenging paper in September:- Child in the countryside: a challenging reality
Nearly 1 in 5 children in this country lives in a rural setting – and a quarter of them live in poverty. The observations are clear that often this poverty is hidden away, and harder to really tackle. Rural schools and rural churches are in a key place to engage with this reality. Perhaps new work with chldren in rural settings by churches should be focussed in 2 ways; the first will be to see the school often as the centre from which to work, not necessarily the church building. However this is not to abandon the church building; it is to find ways of helping the school see it as an extension place of learning – great for art, history, environmental studies (churchyards are wonderful for this), music as well as the obvious RE.
The second will be to explore ways of responding to the reality of rural poverty; what support might the church community be able to offer? Can small churches create small employment opportunities within their community to enhance income a little?
The Church of England is better placed than any other organisation or institution to serve rural communities both through its churches and through schools. We must serve the communities well; including offering things that will enhance a good childhood for rural children.