Picture of the grounds of a wealthy private school. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Australian schools are becoming more segregated. This threatens student outcomes

Australian schools are becoming more segregated. This threatens student outcomes

The Australian school system is concentrating more disadvantaged students in disadvantaged schools, with serious implications for student achievement

A report released today by the Gonski Institute says schools in Australia are more regressive, divided and socially segregated than in most other rich countries.

Our report examines how well Australian education meets our agreed national educational goals.

There is no simple answer to why this happens, but it is an inevitable consequence of a competitive system of schools. While the Gonski review recommended independent oversight of the funding arrangements, this was never implemented.

So, what do we do?

We acknowledge responses to the report will include the perennial “it’s too hard”.

And while we acknowledge choice of schooling has a strong hold on the Australian psyche, we are calling for a new conversation about what obligations might contribute to more equitable outcomes in all schools. Our report offers ten policy recommendations.

These include fully funding non-government schools with comparable governance and accountability arrangements as government schools, and banning them from charging fees. This means reframing all schools, and consequent funding, as a “public good” across all sectors.

The fully funded non-government private schools would still be run by the same organisations as before, and abide by the same educational philosophy. But no student would be turned away.

Our previous study revealed combined state and federal recurrent funding of non-government schools is close to, and in many cases exceeds, combined government funding of government schools.

In effect, this means the taxpayer saves little by funding competing systems.

One of the biggest barriers to achieving educational equity is the lack of routine reporting of school education outcomes relating to equity groups, as is required in higher education. For example, the ICSEA does not make a single appearance in any annual national reports on schooling.

To improve equity in schooling, we need clear analysis, monitoring and targeting of inequity. To gain due policy attention the National Report on Schooling in Australia needs to report on school data and student attainment across all equity groups, across time. We simply cannot allow this growing problem to go unrecognised in our annual national school report card.

Our report team includes two former school principals (one government, one non-government) and a former education minister. We are sensitive to the positioning of diverse interested voices, but we can’t help concluding that something’s got to give.

Rising school inequity means inclusive schooling, providing “a fair go” for all Australian children, is increasingly a pipedream. Growing segregation and residualisation among Australian schools also mean students are less likely to engage with peers from a wide range of backgrounds. In the long term both these issues will lead to shifts in Australian society and character.

We cannot continue to put the important work of structural school reform in the too-hard basket. If we do, countless students, teachers, communities and our nation will continue to suffer.The Conversation

Rachel Wilson, Associate Professor in Education, University of Sydney and Paul Kidson, Lecturer in Educational Leadership, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

UOW academics exercise academic freedom by providing expert commentary, opinion and analysis on a range of ongoing social issues and current affairs. This expert commentary reflects the views of those individual academics and does not necessarily reflect the views or policy positions of the University of Wollongong.