Poorer students getting left behind

December 22, 2010

Research conducted by Murdoch University academics has shown that there is still a large gap in terms of academic achievement between students studying at schools in low socioeconomic status (SES) areas compared to high SES areas.

Senior Lecturers Dr Laura Perry and Dr Andrew McConney say that over the past 30 years high school segregation based on SES has been increasing and that Australia could look towards Canada and Finland for answers.

“It could be tempting to look at our research and think that the answer is to pull children out of the public school system and put them into high fee private schools, but that is not the answer,” Dr Perry said.

“Australia is suffering from large labour shortages and the demand for professionals particularly with maths and science skills will continue to rise.  That’s why it’s important to decrease the gap in student achievement and improve the performance of low performing students.”

International research has shown that countries that mix students from different SES areas in the classroom have higher equity and performance overall. For example, Canada outperforms Australia on international achievement tests largely because low SES students and schools perform better than they do in Australia.

Drs Perry and McConney’s latest research findings show that where a student goes to school matters less in Canada than it does in Australia.

“In Australia we have a large private school sector and we charge fees for private schools, which is increasing the segregation because access to the high SES schools, many of which are high fee private schools, is limited to those who can afford to pay

“In other countries private schools are not subsidised by government which makes their fees much higher – making people more likely to send their children to other schools. Or the Government gives the private schools funding in return for them not charging fees, so that all students have the opportunity to attend.”

To improve equality of education Dr Perry and Dr McConney recommend that policies fostering school SES segregation be reversed and that funding differentials between schools be abolished.

The Murdoch University research was started in 2007 and involved 12,000 students from different SES backgrounds around Australia.  An international maths test called the PISA data set was used to conduct the research.

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