Failure of Disadvantaged Students is not Inevitable

Despite a gradual increase of parents moving their children out of public schools and into private schools, there is plenty of evidence to show that public schools are performing just as well when comparing students of a similar Socio-economic (SES) background. But what does this say about the need for Gonski funding? A parent Gonski campaigner explores the issue.

Trevor Cobbold, Convenor of Save Our Schools has published a detailed analysis of almost 30 academic studies, finding that public, private and Catholic schools produce the same results when comparing children from similar SES backgrounds. Interestingly, Mr Cobbold noted that public school students do better at university than their private school peers who have been cosseted with private tutors, better school resources and infrastructure.

This is heartening news for parents of public school children and their teachers. Despite being under-resourced, our teachers are doing a great job. Imagine what they could do if all schools were funded to meet the minimum resource standard, and disadvantaged children were supported to succeed.

Other research backs up Mr Cobbold’s analysis. The University of Queensland’s Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences has recently released its findings in the largest longitudinal study in Australian history – 4000 primary school students have been tracked from the age of four to ten. It has looked at NAPLAN results, variations on IQ tests and other outcomes such as how they interact with peers.

The report found that it is not attending a public or private school that makes the difference in a child’s school performance. Other factors are more important: the background of the child’s family – income, social circles, the number of people who had completed high school in their neighbourhood, their parents’ educational attainment – or health factors such as the weight of a baby at birth. Most importantly, the study found that children in families with more books at home have consistently higher test scores.

On the surface, it appears that public schools are surviving on the present funding. But in fact this research backs up that of Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd – that disadvantaged students, regardless of which school system they are in, do not do as well as their higher SES peers, and there is an ongoing decline in their performance because adequate school funding for disadvantage has not reached them.

Although there is a direct relationship between socio-economic disadvantage and low academic performance, failure is not inevitable. With the right support and attention to their individual needs at school, disadvantaged children can succeed.

Needs-based and ‘sector-blind’ funding would ensure that every child, regardless of background, would be given the chance to succeed at school; children who start school behind others would receive the extra support needed to gain skills and experiences they missed out on at home.

Public schools who teach 80% of disadvantaged children should receive priority in funding.

Governments should make funding and policy decisions based on research and evidence, not ideology.

Jesse Rowan
Chairperson of Broulee Public School P&C Gonski Sub-Committee

This article was originally published published in the NSW P&C Federation Journal of Term 3, 2015.

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