Representatives of Save Our Schools have told an inquiry into the achievement gap in ACT schools that there is a large difference in school results between students from high and low income families. They told the Education Committee of the ACT Legislative Assembly that the gap is large by national and international standards and it will require a major funding effort to remove.
A statement presented at a hearing of the Committee by Trevor Cobbold and Professor Ian Morgan says that the achievement gap between students from low and high socio-economic status (SES) families is the largest in Australia, apart from the Northern Territory. Low SES students are about 2½ years of schooling behind their high SES peers on average.
This large gap has not been reduced since 2000 despite a variety of government programs such as reducing class sizes.
The statement says that this achievement gap constitutes a major injustice.
Large disparities in school outcomes for students from different social backgrounds entrench inequality and discrimination in society. Students from more privileged backgrounds have greater access to higher incomes, higher status occupations and positions of wealth, influence and power in society than students from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
SOS called for a comprehensive plan to reduce the gap. It said that government economic and social policies should aim to reduce inequality in society because this is a major factor contributing to the gap. It also called for expanded early childhood programs.
It also says that extensive research shows that the path to reducing achievement gaps in schools must include improved teaching and learning opportunities for students who have fallen behind; expanded student welfare, behavioural and learning support measures; and support for developing home/school partnerships.
The statement said that the plan should focus primarily on government schools. ABS Census data shows government schools in the ACT have higher proportions of students from low SES families. About 24% of government school enrolments are from low SES families compared to 13% of Catholic school enrolments and 10% of Independent school enrolments. In contrast, 75% of Independent school enrolments and 65% of Catholic school enrolments are from high SES families, compared to 49% in government schools.
Funding is a critical part of any plan. Research shows that the funding required for low achieving disadvantaged students to achieve adequate levels of achievement is two to three times the cost of educating an average student. Yet, the large Federal Government funding program for disadvantaged schools amounts to less than 10% of current per student costs. By comparison, about 12 times this amount is needed according to the research.
SOS criticised current funding efforts to reduce the achievement gap as too indiscriminate and not well-targeted. It also said that the current method of funding schools is only marginally geared to addressing the gap.
SOS called for a new system of funding schools which better allocates resources to reducing the achievement gap. It says that an independent public inquiry should be established to devise a system of funding schools that gives greater emphasis to differences in student learning need between schools.