Bridging the Rural-Urban Education Divide in Boarding Schools

There are numerous reasons why rural and remote families choose to send their children to boarding school. A better-quality education, greater social interaction, increased sporting opportunities, or simply – because of their geographic isolation, they have no other choice. 

 While rural education does not necessarily equate to a second-rate education in terms of quality; lack of resources, teacher retention and a federal education policy that favours urban schools means that a rural-urban education divide has developed, and this rift continues to grow. With approximately 60% of boarding students coming from rural areas, as a boarding school community, we are directly affected by the rural-urban education divide (Abernethy, 2019). Therefore, it is an issue that we should be passionate about and bridging this gap is something we should be championing for. 

According to the Australian Council for Educational Research (2002), generally, irrespective of geographic location, a similar percentage of children are ‘school ready’ prior to starting their first year at school. Yet, despite school readiness, NAPLAN data has revealed that many regional and rural students make up to two years less progress than students in inner city areas between Year 3 and Year 9 (Goss, Chisholm & Nelson, 2016). Additionally, a study by the Mitchell Institute (2015) found that if you raise the national minimum standard for NAPLAN from a band 3 to a 3.5, only 54.3% of remote students and 24.4% of very remote students meet this new standard as opposed to 74.1% of metropolitan students (Mitchell Institute, 2015b). 

The good news is that rural students are typically more resilient and academically buoyant than their urban peers. This means that as learners, these students are more likely to manage the academic challenges that they face once they arrive at boarding school (Martin,, 2014).  Here’s three things, we as a boarding school staff community, can do to ensure our rural boarders flourish in an urban schooling environment. 

  1. Create timely profiles of individual learners. 

Having as much data on the child’s academic abilities as possible will allow for early intervention and the ability to bridge deficits as quickly as possible. Inner-city educated students are up to two years in front of regional and remote students in some areas (Goss, et. al., 2016). Being proactive in bridging this disadvantage once they reach boarding school is paramount. 

2. Make learning relevant

Rural students are more likely to disengage with their schooling in a metropolitan environment, as they feel the content is irrelevant to them. Providing subjects, or offering school-based traineeships, that are relevant to rural students is vital in improving engagement levels (Stokes, Stafford & Holdsworth, 1999). 

3. Understand where they’ve come from 

As educators in a boarding school, it is our responsibility to understand the diversity that sits in our classrooms. A metropolitan environment is a stark contrast to where these children have grown up. Directly acknowledging the huge changes our rural boarders are managing and being actively interested in how ‘home’ looks for them will not only earn you some brownie points, but it will provide a sense of belonging for the child. 

Bridging the rural-urban education divide in our boarding schools is not going to be easy; but, for the sake of every rural boarding school student – it is going to be worth it. 

Reference List: 

Abernethy, M. (2019). Australia’s boarding schools reflecting the values of the community. Retrieved from

Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). (2002). Rural and Urban Differences in Australian Education. Retrieved from

Farrington, CA, Roderick, M, Allensworth, E, Nagaoka, J, Keyes, TS, Johnson, DW & Beechum, NO (2012), Teaching adolescents to become learners. the role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: a critical literature review. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Goss, P. Sonnemann, J., Chisholm, C. & Nelson, L. (2016). Widening Gaps: What NAPLAN tells us about student progress, Grattan Institute. Retrieved from

Martin, A.J., (2014). Boarding school, motivation and engagement, and psychological well-being: A large-scale investigation. American Educational Research Journal, 51, 1007–1049

Mitchell Institute. (2015). Middle Years: Achievement Gaps Widen At Year 7. Retrieved from

Stokes, H., Stafford, J. & Holdsworth, R. (1999). Rural and Remote School Education: A Survey for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Melbourne: Youth Research Center University of Melbourne. 

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