Ground-breaking new research from The Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) 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, 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.
The research involved interviews with school principals and staff, and observations of literacy and numeracy lessons.
The study – the first of its kind conducted in Australia – found six common themes across nine high-achieving disadvantaged primary schools: school discipline; direct and explicit instruction; experienced and autonomous school leadership; data-informed practice; teacher collaboration and professional learning; and comprehensive early reading instruction.
Blaise Joseph, an education Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and a former teacher, 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,” Joseph said.
However, Joseph said the 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.”
“The findings are consistent with the existing research on high-performing schools and disadvantaged students, from both Australia and overseas,” he said.
“The success stories of the schools in this study show that – given the right set of policies and practices – it is possible for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to be high-achievers.”
The issue of school funding continues to be a key electoral issue as the nation prepares to head to the polls to elect a new Prime Minister in May.
The Federal Government has pledged $307.7bn dollars in recurrent funding to all Australian schools over the period 2018 to 2029 if it is re-elected. There will be more money available for disadvantaged students, including those with disability, those from remote and regional areas, and Indigenous children.
The Opposition’s $14bn, 10-year education plan will see more than 13,000 extra teachers flow into Australia’s public schools, which have been struggling with resource shortages and burgeoning enrolments.
Joseph says the latest research shows that even though both sides of politics in Australia are promising significant increases in school spending across all school sectors, there is little evidence to suggest this will actually improve student outcomes.
“While of course adequate school funding is vital, it’s not just a question of how much money is spent, but also how it is spent,” Joseph said.
“The focus of education policy debates should shift to how to ensure funding is spent on evidence-based policies and practices.”