Publication - Factsheet

Rural schools in Scotland: definition

Published: 25 Oct 2021
Directorate:
Learning Directorate
Part of:
Education

A definition of rural schools in Scotland.

Published:
25 Oct 2021
Rural schools in Scotland: definition

Under section 14 of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 (the 2010 Act), Scottish Ministers are required to maintain a list of “rural schools” and to publish an explanation of how this list is derived. The list is periodically updated, and the most recent list was published in October 2021 based on the Scottish Government School Roll 2020, which is derived from the school contacts details 2020 and school summary statistics 2020

Defining a “rural school” 

The Scottish Ministers use the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification to determine which schools in Scotland should be considered rural schools and included in the Rural School List for the purposes of the 2010 Act. 

The Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification is a methodology which allows every postcode in Scotland to be classified into eight different urban and rural categories. Every school can be allocated to one of these categories based on their spatial location. In previous Rural Schools Lists, the schools were allocated an Urban Rural Classification based on the Census Output Area in which the centroid of its postcode falls. A “rural school” is defined as those with coordinates which are located within any of the three “rural” Urban Rural Classification categories in the list below. 

The SG School Roll 2020 contains 2495 schools in total; 2007 primary schools, 358 secondary schools, and 130 special schools. Of the total 2495 schools, 867 are local authority schools which are classified as “rural” based on the SG Urban Rural Classification; 787 primary schools, 72 secondary schools, and 7 special schools. This means that approximately 40% of local authority primary schools and approximately 20% of local authority secondary schools in Scotland are classified as “rural”.  Overall, 34% of Scotland’s schools are classified as “rural schools”. 

Exclusions

The 2021 list excludes the schools which, although their locations are classified in one of the three rural categories, have been found to be located within 500m (as the crow flies) of an area with an Urban classification (i.e. any of the other five Urban categories in the table) and are not a primary school with fewer than 70 pupils. This reflects the fact that a small number of schools that would not generally be considered to be rural are located at the edge of the settlements which they serve and thus fall into the rural classification.  

For the purposes of the 2010 Act, it has been decided that it is appropriate that these schools are considered to have the classification of the adjacent settlement and are not included on the Rural School List.  The schools which have been excluded from the Rural School List on this basis are listed in the Annex following the List. 

Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification 

The Scottish Government Urban Rural (SGUR) Classification was created to develop understanding of the issues facing urban, rural and remote Scotland and is now used for a variety of purposes, particularly when presenting statistics and information, and is set out in the table below. 

The 2021 Rural Schools List (published October 2021) is based on the SG Urban Rural Classification 2016 (published in 2018 but calculated using 2016 data.)

How the classification is produced

Two main criteria have been used to produce the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification: Settlement size (i.e. population or community size) as defined by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and accessibility based on drive time analysis to differentiate between accessible and remote areas in Scotland. The Settlements and accessibility data are then combined to create a Scotland wide classification. 

Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification 

  • Large Urban Areas - settlements of 125,000 people and over
  • Other Urban Areas - settlements of 10,000 to 124,999 people 
  • Accessible Small Towns - settlements of 3,000 to 9,999 people, and within a 30 minute drive time of a settlement of 10,000 or more
  • Remote Small Towns - settlements of 3,000 to 9,999 people, and with a drive time of over 30 minutes but less than or equal to 60 minutes to a settlement of 10,000 or more
  • Very Remote Small Towns - settlements of 3,000 to 9,999 people, and with a drive time of over 60 minutes to a settlement of 10,000 or more
  • Accessible Rural Areas - areas with a population of less than 3,000 people, and within a drive time of 30 minutes to a settlement of 10,000 or more
  • Remote Rural Areas - areas with a population of less than 3,000 people, and with a drive time of over 30 minutes but less than or equal to 60 minutes to a settlement of 10,000 or more
  • Very Remote Rural Areas - areas with a population of less than 3,000 people, and with a drive time of over 60 minutes to a settlement of 10,000 or more

How settlement sizes are estimated and what settlement size thresholds are used 

NRS Small Area Population Estimates (SAPE) together with information from the Royal Mail Postcode Address File (PAF) were used to classify 2016 postcode units as high or low density. This information was then used to identify areas of contiguous high density postcodes with a population of 500 or more that make up a Settlement. Read details of the methodology used for the Mid-2016 Population Estimates for Settlements. 

The population thresholds (i.e. 3,000, 10,000 and 125,000) used to distinguish between urban and rural areas are used to classify the settlements dataset into 'large urban areas', 'other urban areas', 'small towns' or 'rural areas'. 

NRS recommend users exercise caution when comparing settlement population estimates with previous years. Whilst an increase in population may be due to new build, it may also be due to the inclusion of existing housing which had previously been separated by a low density postcode (and vice versa for a population decrease). 

How drive times are estimated

Drive times are then estimated around settlements classed as 'Large Urban Areas' and 'Other Urban Areas' (population greater than 10,000) to distinguish between accessible and remote areas. For example, in the 6-fold classification, remote small towns are those that fall outwith the 30 minute drive time from a settlement of 10,000 people or more. The 6-fold urban rural classification can also be broken down further into an 8-fold classification. This splits the ‘remote small towns’ and ‘remote rural’ into ‘remote’ and ‘very remote’ based on whether the area is over a 60 minute drive from a centre of population. 

Further information 

The Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification 2016

View a list of rural schools in Scotland

Contact

Email: schoolclosure@gov.scot

Scottish Government
Learning Directorate
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Edinburgh EH6 6QQ