How disadvantaged schools can be top performers

Blaise Joseph

22 March 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

In the lead up to the NSW and federal elections, education policy has degenerated into a bidding war between the major parties, as they both promise more and more taxpayer dollars for schools to combat student disadvantage. But despite recent funding increases, there is no evidence results have improved.

However, our new research report shows there are key areas schools can focus on to improve results for disadvantaged students.

In the study, one of the first of its kind in Australia, we identified 18 schools that are achieving above average results despite being in the lowest quartile of disadvantage.

These schools did not receive any more funding than other similarly disadvantaged schools, but achieved NAPLAN literacy and numeracy results consistently above the national average across the three-year period 2015-2017.

We observed lessons and conducted in-depth interviews with teachers and principals at nine of these schools, finding six common themes:

1. School discipline.
2. Direct and explicit instruction.
3. Experienced and autonomous school leadership.
4. Data-informed practice.
5. Teacher collaboration and professional learning.
6. Comprehensive early reading instruction.

These schools illustrate best practice. The challenge is turning this into common practice in the school system.

The success stories of the disadvantaged schools in our study show that — given the right set of policies and practices — students from low socio-economic backgrounds can be high achievers.

No country in the world has succeeded in eliminating education inequity. On average students from disadvantaged social backgrounds perform worse academically than more advantaged students. But we can improve outcomes for our most disadvantaged children if evidence-based school practices are adopted.

And our research proves that helping disadvantaged students succeed is not just a question of how much money is spent, but also how it is spent.

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