In this blog, Dr Tanya Vaughan summarises the important role education can play in breaking the strong link between family income and student outcomes.
Earlier this year, myself and Matthew Deeble, Director of Evidence for Learning headed to Singapore to be part of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI). There were many presentations and workshops that resonated with me, including Dr Alicia Grunow’s Heart and Rigor: Learning to Improve in America’s Schools, Lucy Crehan’s The role of teacher knowledge and beliefs in the scaling of effective teaching strategies and Dr Carol Cambell’s Influential Educators: Leading Educational Improvement. Matt and I were fortunate to lead two sessions describing Evidence for Learning’s work to date in helping great practice become common practice in Australian schools through evidence, and mapping evidence to policy to help practice. The insightful questions from the audiences helped us realise the relevance of our work not just for Australia, but internationally. Matt outlined this in our last blog – Knowledge mobilisation – a global game.
Educational excellence and equity
For me the most impactful moments occurred on the third day of the conference in a forum on educational excellence and equity. This session re-ignited my passion and expanded my understanding of excellence and equity in education. The forum started with a description of how coming from a background of low socio-economic status can impact a students’ performance and their chances of completing year 12. As outlined in this quote:
Students from low socio-economic background are twice as likely to be low performers, implying that personal or social circumstances are obstacles to achieving their educational potential … with 20% of Young Adults on average dropping out before finalizing upper secondary education. (OECD, 2012, p. 9)
I researched this further, looking at statistics from Australia. This revealed that a student from a background that is socio-economically disadvantaged is five times more likely to be a low performer (low performer is defined as those 15 year old students who score below Level 2 on the PISA mathematics, reading and science assessments) than students from an advantaged background (OECD, 2016). Another recent Australian study shows that 10 per cent of children remain behind their peers and do not complete year 12, leading to long-term marginalised life, school and employment outcomes (Lamb, Jackson, Walstab, & Huo, 2015). This was a sobering insight into how far we still have to go as a country in ensuring that 'we help break the strong link between family income and student outcomes' (Evidence for Learning, 2018).
In the next part of the forum Professor Chris Chapman from the University of Glasgow outlined his perspective:
- There is a strong evidence based about what works. When it is used to inform practice, progress can be made.
- When researchers are connected to policy-making processes and evidence can inform decision making more equitable outcomes can be achieved.
- Where there is a strong collective will, focused on promoting equitable outcomes combined with alignment and coherence across the system - from national policy to classrooms - progress can be made.
His perspective resonated strongly with my own and is clearly aligned with the work of Evidence for Learning. Our vision is 'an Australia where evidence-informed approaches improve learning for 5-18 year olds, so that all children, regardless of background, make the best possible progress' (Evidence for Learning, 2018). What I love about working at Evidence for Learning is that we are incubated within Social Ventures Australia and that I am surrounded by colleagues who really want to make a difference to the lives of people in need. To have that as the key driver, makes work like a home, full of professional and passionate people. This is what drives me and I know drives educators in schools and classrooms across Australia, to make a difference to those students most in need.
In the next part of the forum we were invited to discuss in groups the following questions:
- Can schools or education systems pursue educational excellence and equity simultaneously?
- What does it mean to have excellence in equity, and equity in excellence?
- How can school improvement efforts address ways to close the gaps developed for individual, educational organisations and whole systems?
- Can, and under what conditions can schools and communities build a new social order which provides for individual social mobility for all children, including those in marginalised groups?
- How can various theories on equity and excellence inform school improvement and educational effectiveness research and practice?
Being part of this forum helped to me realise that alongside our efforts in Australia, I was part of a global community that was striving for excellence in equity. Although we all felt like there was a long way to go it was the acknowledgement of this reality that made me recognise, in the time we had spent at ICSEI and acknowledging the ugly truths, we are making progress towards a fairer and more equitable society. I was particularly moved by an educator who said that in their country they felt like education was acting to reinforce the inequity. It was expressed to the whole conference and you could feel everyone weighing that up and thinking if this could be the true for their country as well.
To me, striving for equity in education is the reason I get up every morning. I believe that evidence-based decision making and educators generating their practice-based evidence can make a difference to those in our society with the greatest need.
Evidence for Learning. (2018). Vision, purpose and values. Retrieved from http://www.evidenceforlearning.org.au/about/vision-and-values/
Lamb, S., Jackson, J., Walstab, A., & Huo, S. (2015). Educational opportunity in Australia 2015: Who succeeds and who misses out.
OECD. (2012). Equity and Quality in Education. Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/education/school/50293148.pdf
OECD. (2016). Low-Performing Students: Why They Fall Behind and How to Help Them Succeed. Country Note Australia. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/australia/PISA-2012-low-performers-Australia-ENG.pdf