The factors holding back Australia’s most disadvantaged students

Jan 31, 2018 by

Pallavi Singhal –

Far fewer disadvantaged students in Australia are overcoming their backgrounds to achieve highly in year 10 maths, science and reading tests than disadvantaged students in other OECD and partner countries, with implications for HSC and NAPLAN results and Australia’s performance in international tests.

Only about 28.6 per cent of the most disadvantaged students in Australia are demonstrating the skills needed for success later in life in Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, an OECD report has found.


This is slightly higher than the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average of 25.2 per cent, but far lower than countries such as Canada and Finland, where nearly 40 per cent of students are overcoming their background to succeed at school.

The report measures the ability of 15-year-olds who are among the 25 per cent most socioeconomically disadvantaged students in their country to achieve approximately average or above average results in all three PISA domains, which the paper has termed “academic resilience”.

“The share of resilient students can be seen as an indicator of both the quality and equity of education system,” the paper states.

Socioeconomic status remains one of the major predictors of a student’s academic performance, with disadvantaged students more likely to have lower outcomes, drop out of school and repeat a grade, according to the report.

In Australia, students with lower levels of educational advantage are likely to do worse in the HSC and in NAPLAN tests, and be up to three years behind their more advantaged peers in the latest PISA and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

The share of resilient students in Australia has fallen from 36.3 per cent of students in 2006 to 28.6 per cent in 2015, the paper has found.

Hong Kong has the highest share of resilient students, with 53.1 per cent of disadvantaged students performing highly, followed by Macao, with 51.7 per cent, and Singapore, with 43.4 per cent.

At the other end of the scale, only 0.4 per cent of disadvantaged students in Kosovo and 0.5 per cent of disadvantaged students in Peru are reaching a set level in the PISA tests.

The report has found that attending schools with less disruption in the classroom, an engaged community and having more affluent peers are all linked to higher levels of resilience, while school resources are not a significant factor is resilience.

Schools with low teacher turnover and where principals adopt a “transformational leadership style” and better direct staff to a strategic goal also promote greater resilience among disadvantaged students.

Reducing truancy in a school also improves outcomes for all students, with the paper finding a 1 per cent reduction in students who skip days of school is linked to a 2 per cent higher chance of resilience among disadvantaged students.

“The finding that resilience varies across schools suggests that the school environment plays a key role in mitigating the risk of low achievement for disadvantaged students,” the paper found.

The paper also identifies countries where the share of resilient students has increased significantly over time, with Germany, Portugal, Japan and Israel doing particularly well on this measure.

“Many of the fastest improvers, such as Germany, did so through a combination of improvements in the quality of the learning opportunities for all students, and improvements that affected the most socioeconomically disadvantaged students in particular,” according to the report.

Source: The factors holding back Australia’s most disadvantaged students

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