This clipping is from the February 10 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit http://smh.com.au/digitaledition.

Today

School system punishes poor, says report
SMH – Friday, 10 February 2012

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald
A COMPETITIVE school market is segregating students by ability , socio-economic background and ethnicity with profound effects on education outcomes, states a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The best education systems are those that combine equity with quality and give all children opportunities, argues the report, Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools.

It precedes a major review of funding in Australia. The Gonski review will be released on February 20 and is expected to recommend an overhaul of the funding regime with particular focus on disadvantaged public schools.

The report argues investing in high quality schooling and equal opportunities from the early years to the end of upper secondary is the most profitable policy.

Yet across the industrialised economies one in five students does not attain the minimum level of skills, says the report, with students from low socioeconomic backgrounds twice as likely to be low performers.

Schools with higher proportions of disadvantaged students are then at greater risk of underperformance and often lack the internal capacity to improve.

While school choice has increased across the OECD, selective schools are able to ‘‘ cream skim’ ’ students who are easier to teach and more able to learn; better-off parents make more effective use of school choice, and tend to avoid schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students and prefer those with students ethnically similar to their own family.

The authors recommend financial incentives, such as extra funding, to make low performing or disadvantaged students more attractive to high quality schools.

The report is also sharply critical of academic selection, arguing the educational track to which a student is assigned ‘‘ has a great impact on their education and life prospects’’ .

Lower-tier streams fuel ‘‘ a vicious cycle in the expectations of teachers and students’ ’ with consequences for students from lower socio-economic groups. The authors argue against streaming students by ability because it has a negative impact on those assigned to lower bands without raising the performance of the whole population. ‘‘ Selection exacerbates inequities since students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be placed in the least academically oriented tracks,’’ they state.

Some 95 per cent of Australian students are grouped by ability – the highest rate in the OECD – with 60 per cent of students at schools who consider academic performance when awarding places.

Angelo Gavrielatos, the federal president of the Australian Education Union, said the report exposed ‘‘ the failure of policies that contribute to the segregation of students and the negative impact of these policies on the educational attainment of students’’ .

‘‘ Its release is timely given the opportunity the Gonski review gives the government to put in place a new funding system to replace the current arrangements which are contributing to deepening inequality of outcomes.’’

The federal education minister, Peter Garrett, said it ‘‘ strengthens our position that investing in education is a national priority’’ .

‘‘ We must continue to lift the quality of our schools and improve our results if we are to remain competitive and help all students reach their full potential ,’’ he said.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald