Students from low socio-economic backgrounds outperformed their more advantaged peers with the same academic skills in their first year of university, according to a new study.
The study, by the University Admissions Centre (UAC), investigated the impact of student disadvantage on achievement in Year 12 and first-year university. The research looks at whether a student’s ATAR is affected by socio-economic disadvantage and if it contributes to predicting university success independent of this disadvantage.
The final report, titled: ‘Student disadvantage and success at university’, found that, compared with their non-disadvantaged peers, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to progress to Year 12 or to attain an ATAR and are less likely to enrol at university.
However, the pattern is different once the ATAR is taken into account. That is, given the same ATAR, lower-SES students enrol at a higher rate at university and once there, generally slightly outperform their non-disadvantaged peers.
The findings add to a growing body of research that suggest socio-economic factors may not weigh as heavily on academic achievement as previously thought.
Earlier this year, a study of NAPLAN results found that public schools do as well as private schools after differences in socio-economic background of students are considered.
A study conducted four years earlier in Western Australia found that students from public secondary schools, which enrol the most disadvantaged students, achieved a better grade point average than their private school peers.
Craig Petersen, the president of the Secondary Principals Council, said the success of students’ post-secondary school, in either further education or in the workforce, can be influenced by the philosophy of the school.
“Schools cannot be solely focussed on external measures, including NAPLAN, the HSC and the ATAR, if we are to develop our students into creative and critical thinkers capable of problem solving unique issues,” Petersen told The Educator.
“The Mparntwe Declaration calls upon schools to develop students who are confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners and active and informed members of the community.”
Petersen said schools that successfully engage and develop the whole child are “not creating activists or espousing radical social agendas, they are helping grow young people into intelligent adults.”
“There is a disturbing trend that has developed out of high stakes testing and the relentless focus on a narrow range of easily assessed information that has seen a sharp rise in tutoring services and teaching to the test – either explicitly or otherwise,” he said.
“This unwarranted focus on a narrow range of achievement measures sometimes has the perverse effect of creating students who can do well on a specific test, but who lack the resilience, the independence or the flexibility to cope in the real world.”
Petersen said it is relatively simple to prepare students for a test, to maximise their HSC or achieve a good ATAR.
“The greater challenge is preparing them well for the rest of their lives.”