Media Release 8 October 2006 – Low Income Students Do Better in Small Schools

Saturday October 7, 2006

Save Our Schools today released a research report that shows that students from low income families do better in small schools.

SOS spokesperson, Trevor Cobbold, said that the research refutes Government claims that closing small schools will allow resources to be better targeted to address educational need and socio-economic disadvantage.

“Far from improving results for students from low income families, closing small schools with high disadvantage factors is likely to harm the learning of these students and exacerbate inequity in school outcomes in the ACT.

“The research shows that small school size is unambiguously good for students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds and communities with relatively high levels of disadvantage. Students from low SES backgrounds achieve better results in smaller schools than in large schools.

“The well-known adverse consequences of low income and poverty for school performance are closely tied to school size. Large schools actually do academic harm to students from low SES backgrounds. As schools become larger, the negative effects of poverty on student achievement increases.

“In contrast, smaller schools reduce the effect that low income and poverty has on student achievement. The well-known correlation between disadvantage and low student achievement is much lower in small schools than in large schools.

“For example, one study shows that those attending the smallest schools experience a 60 per cent reduction in the influence of SES on mathematics performance, a 39 per cent reduction on reading performance, a 50 per cent reduction for science, and a 45 per cent reduction for history.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the research had important implications for the Towards 2020 plan.

“About half the schools listed for full or part closure in Towards 2020 have a relatively high proportion of their students from disadvantaged family backgrounds.

“School closures in low income communities are likely to produce results that are the opposite of those that the Stanhope Government claims it intends. School consolidation, without regard to student background, is likely to increase the large inequity that already exists in ACT school outcomes and degrade academic accomplishments. In particular, it may undermine recent progress made in improving in Indigenous outcomes.

“The key practical policy recommendation arising from these research studies is that small schools should be maintained in low SES communities. The most impoverished communities should be served by the smallest schools.

“The following conclusion from one study is representative:

Findings from this study obviously offer no support for arrangements that work to increase the size of already small schools, especially those that serve impoverished communities….In light of the findings from this and other studies, concern for achievement and for reducing achievement gaps means that educators and policy makers must search for ways to meet these challenges without closing schools that are already appropriately small.

“Government policies should emphasise the benefits of smaller schools, rather than seek to close or amalgamate small schools.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the SOS report reviews a stream of research studies conducted over the last 10 years or so that examines the interaction between school size, socio-economic status and student achievement.

“There is a very large research literature on the effect of school size on student achievement. However, it has long over-looked the possibility that school size may be associated with different outcomes for students from different backgrounds. This gap has been rectified by a stream of state-wide and national studies in the US in recent years that are summarised in the SOS report.

“This research has been completely ignored by the ACT Government in developing its proposal to close 39 schools and to partially close 5 other schools. The Towards 2020 website fails to include any of these studies in its reference list of education papers.”

The full report available for download

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

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