Poor Students Need Earlier Help – Experts

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(Courtesy of News.com/au)

SCHOOLS need more targeted funding to meet the needs of poorly performing students and to reduce the gap between children from different backgrounds, education experts say.

A report by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reform Council released today shows reading and numeracy is improving among most students.

However, the proportion of Year 9 students achieving minimum standards fell nationally and in individual states, including NSW and Victoria.

The director of the Grattan Institute’s school education program, Ben Jensen, says these results show Australia is failing to address low performance at a young enough age.

“As students progress throughout their education not only are we failing to lift those students who have fallen down … above those levels, but we’re actually letting more students fall down,” he told AAP.

“If you can get them at Year 3, or ideally you get them before that, then you have much better chance of improving education levels overall.”

Dr Jensen said countries that outperformed Australia either had specific programs to target low-performing students at a very young age or focused on giving teachers sufficient time and expertise to ensure they addressed the learning needs of every student.

“Unfortunately, we’ve done bits of this but we haven’t gone far enough down either of these routes,” he said.

He believed the continuing measurement through the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy could identify trends which would help governments direct resources to particular schools or learning areas.

For the first time, the COAG Reform Council examined the performance of students from different socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds.

Chair Paul McClintock said his council was surprised by the results, which found that high SES students performed about the same across the country but the achievements of low SES students varied between the states and territories.

Victoria had the smallest gap between achievements of students from different backgrounds, while the Northern Territory had the largest.

“This means that students who are disadvantaged by their socio-economic status may be further disadvantaged because of where they live,” Dr McClintock told reporters in Canberra.

The Smith Family, which supports disadvantaged children’s schooling, called for increased long-term investment in schools in low SES communities to address this.

“For a nation like Australia which prides itself on fairness, children’s educational outcomes should not be so strongly influenced by their socio-economic background,” the charity’s head of research and advocacy, Anne Hampshire, said in a statement.

Any such investment would also need strong partnerships that harnessed resources from community organisations, business, philanthropy and the wider community as well as government.

“These partnerships are critical if we are to make significant progress on educational outcomes for children and young people,” Ms Hampshire said.

COAG will keep collecting this SES data to see if the gap grows or shrinks over time.

The report also found indigenous student school attendance rates have continued to fall in almost every jurisdiction, especially in the upper high school years.

Attendance rose in NSW up to Year 7 and in WA up to Year 6.

But it fell in every state and territory in Year 10, and there were either falls or no change in Years 8 and 9.

In the NT, just 61 per cent of Year 10 indigenous students attended school. This has fallen from almost 70 per cent attendance in 2007.

Mr McClintock said this was one of the most confronting pieces of data out of everything the Reform Council recorded.

“It’s a very disappointing result and frankly, we find those results really hard to fathom,” he told journalists.

“We hope the governments do see these results as an urgent warning because increasing indigenous school attendance rates is crucial to meeting their own targets of halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements and int he Year 12 attainment rates.

“There’s not the slightest possibility of closing gaps in things like that if that number of children have opted out of the system.”

Federal Schools Minister Peter Garrett said the responsibility to improve these attendance rates was shared.

“While schools have to support and better accommodate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, it is crucial that parents ensure the importance of schooling is communicated very clearly to their children,” he said in a statement.

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