Widening Access in Rural Areas

The Scottish Government has just published “A Blueprint for Fairness: The Final Report of the Commission on Widening Access”. 


The report concerns widening access generally, but makes a few interesting points with regards to rurality and widening access:

  1. The report recognises that the continued use of the SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) is ‘less likely to identify those from disadvantaged backgrounds in more rural areas’ because it identifies geographical concentrations of deprivation, and in rural areas the population is generally more geographically dispersed. However, in the absence of any strong alternatives, the report recommends the continued use of SIMD as a marker of deprivation. This is disappointing for those of us working in rural areas, and with individuals who may experience significant deprivation – however in the absence of any strong alternatives the recommendation is understandable, and it is good to see that, at least, the issues with use of SIMD are being foregrounded.
  2. Recommendation 18 specifically mentions rural areas: “Universities, colleges and local authorities should work together to provide access to a range of Higher and Advanced Higher subjects, which ensures that those from disadvantaged backgrounds or living in rural areas are not restricted in their ability to access higher education by the subject choices available to them.” In contrast to the first point, this is a really welcome recommendation – it is absolutely true that students in small rural schools may have less choice over their subjects than in other larger schools. In my experience this can lead to students either feeling unable to undertake certain training routes, or having to take a less-than-ideal training route e.g. undertaking a crash-Higher course in order to access their preferred training.
  3. Finally it is good to see that at the end of the report there is recognition that the authors have had to focus their findings on one specific area: access to the core provision of higher education for those from socioeconomically deprived backgrounds or those with care experience. As they note, to their regret they have not been able to focus on a number of areas, including ‘Access to HE for those from rural areas’. Again it’s great to see that access to HE from rural areas is noted as an area of interest, even if the report does not address this to any significant extent.

Overall although it is disappointing that we have retained the SIMD as a marker of deprivation, it is good to see that rural issues are being noted by the authors of the report, and it is great to see that increased flexibility in education pathways is being identified as important for rural communities and rural people.

If you’re interested in this blog you may also be interested in my previous blog on Social Mobility in Rural Areas. It is also maybe useful to note that there is some research on access to HE from rural areas specifically – for example the research coming from St Andrews about Access to HE for rural communities  As ever I would be interested to hear your thoughts too!




  1. So do you have any suggestions as to how deprivation should be monitored and services targeted?

    Can they not introduce some kind of rural balance to the formulae?

    1. Interesting comments Tristram, thank you. And, well, the report itself (and the associated technical report on measures) lists some possibilities – e.g. free school meals and attendance at a secondary school with low progression to HE. The options are considered in terms of robustness, viability etc, however the report concludes that no other option would be perfect either and that the SIMD is “a valid marker of deprivation”.

      I wonder though about considering something like the Scottish Government’s Urban Rural Classification. This could perhaps be included as some kind of balance to the SIMD or alternatively it could be used as a stand alone measure – i.e. rather than thinking about how we identify deprivation within rural communities we could be considering rurality itself as a widening participation issue. The St Andrews report is interesting from this perspective when they suggest that “We recommend that a coordinated outreach initiative is put in place for pupils (and their parents or carers, teaching and support staff) from all remote Scottish areas.”

      Despite recommending the retention of the SIMD, this latest Scottish Government report does state that “The Commission would, however, be
      supportive of any moves to develop a more individualised approach to measuring deprivation for use across the entire education system should the data become available to do this.” So perhaps adopting the urban rural classification may be something to consider in moving towards this ‘individualised approach’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s