Interpreting small schools through the regions
The Small Schools Manifesto argues that the task of a modern country is to provide quality education to every part of its territory. To effectively move towards this goal, in 2018 a research project was launched in the first cycle of education (primary school and lower secondary school), which led to:
- defining the numbers that identify small schools and, consequently, taking a census of the population of small schools throughout the country and describing their characteristics;
- identifying the characteristics of the regions in which small schools are based in order to understand the interventions, which can best support the school’s longevity in the area. Four regional clusters with homogeneous characteristics were identified by defining the analysis parameters, such as isolation and the peripheral and marginal nature.
Based on the research results, and also thanks to the collaboration of the Ministry of Education (Statistical Office), to date, small schools can be defined as a “substantial” phenomenon, because they represent an important part of the overall Italian school population (small primary schools represent 45.3% of all Italian primary schools; small lower secondary schools 21.7%), and as a “complex” one, since small schools are not only found on small islands and in remote isolated places, but are also found in urban centres, peripheral municipalities and in the many areas between cities and countryside which are very widespread in Italy. As far as small nursery schools are concerned, that is, formal educational facilities aimed at children between 3 and 6 years old, made up of single sections, there are about 2,518 distributed throughout Italy. Given the near impossibility for teachers to exploit co-teaching and to work in open classes, these facilities rethink didactic and organisational proposals and present greater interaction with the region itself.
This framework needs to be constantly updated and mapped to contextualise the research on small schools and to establish a productive dialogue with local institutions and companies. It can also be expanded and enriched through comparison with other databases.
The literature and recent surveys on learning have also highlighted how differences in learning and educational poverty are strongly linked to the socio-regional situation.
The research project, underpinned by the reasons expressed, aims to:
- understand how the analysis parameters (isolation and the peripheral and marginal nature) that have characterised INDIRE research in the regions of small schools affect the levels of learning measured by INVALSI;
- verify, in the light of integrated data, some beliefs and convictions that emerge in public debate but which are not based on empirical evidence;
- understand how the relationships which emerged through comparison with various corpus data affect the didactic and organisational proposal of small schools, with focus on the specific research of Structure 8 and that pertain to mixed-age classes, community schools, and classes opened through new technologies.
The project is characterised by the following research questions:
Q1: How does the population of small schools in Italy change over time, also taking into account socio-regional situations?
Q2: What are the relationships between the various socio-regional situations in which small schools operate and the learning outcomes, and how do they differ from the analysis parameters and the clusters identified?
Q3: Do small schools implement educational and organisational change actions resulting from participation in European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)/European Social Fund (ESF) announcements to improve the quality of the educational offer?
Q4: What are the most fragile educational and regional situations with regard to small schools?
Direct: population of small Italian schools (kindergarten, primary, lower secondary) identified based on the quantitative criteria previously identified and published in scientific papers and international conferences
Indirect: Ministry of Education, USR [Ufficio Scolastico Regionale – Regional School Department], ANCI, EUN, OECD.