A study of disadvantage in rural primary schools was prompted by a belief, supported by some empirical evidence (e.g., from the evaluation of the Breaking the Cycle scheme in rural areas and from the modelling exercise with the data from the 2005 survey of disadvantage for DEIS) that the relationship between socioeconomic factors and educational outcomes is weaker in rural than in urban settings.
Test data collected from rural schools in 2007 as part of the evaluation of the School Support Programme (SSP) under DEIS were used to examine the nature of disadvantage in rural areas. In a first report on the issue, Weir, Archer and Millar (2009) described how pupils in the rural dimension of the SSP performed significantly better than pupils in urban SSP schools. They also found that poverty was less concentrated in the rural than in the urban sample, but no evidence could be found to implicate this in the explanation of the superior performance of rural pupils over their urban counterparts. No evidence of small school size mitigating the effects of poverty on educational outcomes was found. However, the presence of relatively large numbers of pupils from some counties in the west of Ireland in the rural sample appeared to account for some, but not all, of the urban/rural achievement gap. There was, however, support for the idea that the relationship between socioeconomic characteristics and pupil achievement differs both quantitatively and qualitatively in rural and urban areas. The report concluded by suggesting that further work, in particular focusing on the differential home experiences of pupils in rural and urban areas, was indicated. That work is currently being advanced and a report on the issue was released in 2013 (see Weir & McAvinue, 2013).