Gonski needed to address achievement gaps: Minister

A new report shows that drifting school enrolments are segregating students into advantaged and disadvantaged schools, putting Australia at risk of a two-tier education system.

The report, by the Centre for Policy Development, shows that families are moving to enrol their children in schools with perceived high NAPLAN results reported on the MySchool website, which is resulting in concentrations of disadvantage in already-disadvantaged public schools.

It shows that between 2011 and 2015, enrolments in disadvantaged schools decreased by 7500 while enrolments in more advantaged government schools increased by 22,000. Enrolments in more advantaged Catholic schools also increased by 13,000 and more advantaged independent schools increased by 10,000.

This report follows shortly after the release of the Grattan Institute’s analysis of NAPLAN, which shows student background is still playing a major role in determining outcomes, with students from disadvantaged backgrounds falling behind their more advantaged counterparts by more than two years of academic achievement between years 3 and 9.

Speaking on ABC’s Lateline, retired principal Chris Bonnor, who jointly conducted the study for the Centre for Policy Development, said the change in enrolments was best described as representing a drift away from disadvantaged schools to relatively advantaged schools in all educational systems.

The program also featured Dr Christina Ho, from the University of Technology Sydney, who said NAPLAN-based school rankings had narrowed people’s focus on a quite artificial set of academic outcomes at the expense of a more holistic understanding of the opportunities that schools can provide.

Dr Ho also described the concept of parent choice as a "lie", as refugees, migrants and people from poorer communities usually send their children to the local public school by default. However, she also identified that people justifying ‘choice’ often engaged in euphemisms for class or race.

This results in a kind of ‘self-segregation’ within the education system, Ms Ho said.

Mr Bonnor said something must be done to "break the cycle" and that while evidence showed it can be done, it "can’t be done on the cheap".

He said a full system of nationwide support is needed to lift disadvantaged students and schools.

"If we don’t lift these kids and these schools, we don’t lift the country."

Also on Lateline, in an interview with Emma Alberici, NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli warned against the misinterpretation and misuse of NAPLAN data.

“Just comparing raw scores is the wrong way to use that data,” Mr Piccoli said.

He urged people to look primarily at the growth data in a school rather than their raw results. “If parents…compare schools just on the raw score, they will be making the wrong decisions.”

Minister Piccoli also stated his intent to continue lobbying the Coalition to commit to the full six years of the funding agreement made between NSW and the Commonwealth.

“The students who need it the most get the most funding,” said Minister Piccoli said.

Speaking of the gap in achievement identified in the Grattan Institute report, he said, “That’s why I personally, and the NSW government, have been such strong supporters of Gonski funding, particularly the needs based nature of the funding model.”

Minister Piccoli also pointed out that the Federal Coalition had not yet made an absolute commitment whether or not to support needs-based funding, and pointed out that there was still a COAG meeting, federal budget and election coming up.

“We’ve got a commitment from the federal Labor Party…and [I will] continue to lobby Simon [Birmingham], the Prime Minister and others…to commit as well.”

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