New CIS research: How disadvantaged schools have become top performers

Blaise Joseph

15 March 2019 | MEDIA RELEASE

Ground-breaking new research from The Centre for Independent Studies has identified the common policies and practices leading to success in disadvantaged primary schools.

 In Overcoming the Odds: A study of Australia’s top-performing disadvantaged schools, education research fellow Blaise Joseph investigated the practices of primary schools that perform well on NAPLAN literacy and numeracy tests despite having high proportions of students from disadvantaged social backgrounds — and not receiving any more funding than other similarly disadvantaged schools.

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 The study — the first of its kind conducted in Australia — found six common themes across nine high-achieving disadvantaged primary schools: 

  1. School discipline. Based on high expectations, a clear set of consistently applied classroom rules, and a centralised school behaviour policy.
  2. Direct and explicit instruction. New content is explicitly taught in sequenced and structured lessons. Includes clear lesson objectives, immediate feedback, reviews of content from previous lessons, unambiguous language, frequent checking of student understanding, demonstration of the knowledge or skill to be learnt, and students practicing skills with teacher guidance.
  3. Experienced and autonomous school leadership. Stable, long-term school leadership, and principal autonomy to select staff and control school budgets.
  4. Data-informed practice. Using data from teacher-written, NAPLAN, and other assessments to improve teaching, track student progress, and facilitate intervention for underachieving students.
  5. Teacher collaboration and professional learning. Collaboration among teachers and specialist support staff to cater for the often-complex needs of disadvantaged students. With a focus on teacher professional learning, involving peer observations, mentoring, and attending practical professional development activities which help refine literacy and numeracy instruction.
  6. Comprehensive early reading instruction. Including five necessary elements of reading instruction: Phonemic awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension.

Mr Joseph said these six consistent themes indicate how disadvantaged primary schools could improve significantly, without necessarily having to increase school spending.

 “Students from disadvantaged social backgrounds perform worse academically on average than more advantaged students, both in Australia and overseas,” he said.

“But this research shows it is possible for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed at school, given the right policies and practices — and this doesn’t require significantly more taxpayer funding.”

Blaise Joseph is an education Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and a former teacher. 

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