Money can’t buy good grades, state-wide NAPLAN data reveals
A tool to track how students across NSW perform in NAPLAN compared with household incomes and unemployment rates has found that some of the best-performing suburbs in Sydney are in the middle or lower end of the earnings scale.
Household income in Hurstville in southern Sydney is less than $1800 a week, but the suburb’s year 3 students do just as well in NAPLAN as those from Turramurra and Hunters Hill.
The average weekly income in Byron Bay increased by $800 over a decade, but, contrary to conventional wisdom that more advantage leads to better educational outcomes, its NAPLAN results went down.
Households in the exclusive eastern suburbs community of Dover Heights earn $2900 a week, but its year 3 students’ results are on par with those from Bathurst and Ballina, whose families earn up to half as much.
Researchers at the University of NSW have developed the Gonski Data Lab to track how students in different suburbs and towns perform in NAPLAN, their first step in a longer-term research project to study the social influence on how children fare at school.
The results are suburb-based rather than school or sector-based. Adrian Piccoli, UNSW Professor in the practice of education, said this allowed families and researchers to take a deeper look at the impact of factors such as parental attitudes towards education, the influence of industries that provide the most jobs in a town, and community expectations.
“The commentary around education performance inevitably goes to what’s happening in the school, curriculum, school facilities, but the reality is, it’s more shaped by the parents, the community, than it actually is by anything that happens in the school,” he said.
Some of the best-performing suburbs in Sydney are in the middle or lower end of the earnings scale but are dominated by new migrants who deeply value education, such as Carlingford and Hurstville.
Goulburn households earn more per week on average than those in Ulladulla, yet its results are significantly lower. “Why is there the difference?” said Professor Piccoli, who will address the Sydney Morning Herald Schools Summit on Wednesday. “I don’t know the answer. But it’s an insight worthy of further analysis.
“Why is Cabramatta, with a high south-east Asian population, doing better than the north shore? It’s not how much money the school has, or how good the teachers are. North shore teachers are probably as good as you get anywhere.
“This doesn’t provide solutions. It’s a different way of looking at the problem.”
The website uses school-based data from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, and socio-economic data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It combines sectors, taking in independent, Catholic and public schools.
It does not account for students travelling to different areas for schools, which is why data from primary school, when students are most likely to stay local, is the more reliable community indicator.
Richard Holden, head of the newly formed Economics of Education Knowledge Hub at the UNSW, said Gonski Data Lab was the beginning of a bigger project to understand the community factors that had an impact on student achievement.
“Take youth unemployment, for example,” he said. “If you are a 16-year-old in school, and you see really high youth unemployment in your area, that’s a pretty negative signal about your job prospects.
“Some people might say that means I need to leave, or that I need to work really hard, but a whole group of other people might say my job prospects are pretty bleak, why am I going to work super hard at school?
“The contrast between year 3 and year 9, is pretty instructive. People move around, you get big crunch in terms of people leaving to go to selective schools and private school.”
The head of the Secondary Principals Council Craig Petersen said the approach was “right on the money”. He once worked at a country school where the results consistently matched top city schools. He put the success down to not only strong teachers but the influence of a nearby scientific research facility.
“We didn’t have scientists’ kids there, but the aspiration and appreciation of tertiary study permeated the town,” he said. “I think [looking at social influences] is the right approach, and I’d agree there’s a lot of out of school factors that can vary enormously between communities.”
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