The richer the school, the better the education, right? Generally, yes. But don’t get too concerned if you can’t afford to send your child to a private college — there are plenty of ‘poor’ schools with loads to offer.
The article Status of school can affect results, recently published in The Australian, discusses a study by Murdoch University revealing that ‘the socio-economic status of a school can mitigate the effects of a student’s own background.’
It was found that students from poor economic backgrounds, who attended one of the richest schools, improved test scores by an average of 57 points in reading, maths and science. Similarly, the test results of the richest students attending one of the poorer schools dropped almost as drastically across the board.
Education researcher, Dr Laura Perry, who along with Andrew McConney analysed the study’s results, said it suggests the background of the school’s majority could affect the results of a single child.
“It was previously thought it would benefit lower socio-economic kids to go to a richer school, but that it didn’t matter as much for privileged kids because they’ll do well no matter where they go to school,” she said. “It’s not true. They’re just as sensitive to the composition of the school as any other kid, which was a depressing finding for us.”
Depressing, perhaps, but as a psychologist and teacher of more than 30 years, these findings come as no surprise. Rich schools, more often than not, offer positive learning environments, comprising high quality teachers and students who serve as role models to peers. Such environments promote development and foster improved academic results.
In poorer socio-economic schools, however, there is often little peer pressure to perform. There is also almost no incentive for schools to change, as they are not offered support or encouragement from governments or the communities. As with children, expectation and encouragement are great motivators. Consequently, students in these environments often suppress their abilities so as not to stand out from the crowd. Like kids in rich schools aiming high to match the performances of their peers, kids in poor schools will often allow their results to slip to ensure they don’t draw unwanted attention.
However, it isn’t solely socio-economic status that will determine the success of any one school. A school’s identity, and how it projects the importance of education, can impact significantly on student performance.
Early in my career I taught at schools where the main role of the teacher was simply to manage children; there was no value placed on actually educating them. Meanwhile, other schools in similar socio-economic environments were aspirational and encouraged students to look beyond their families’ standings and backgrounds, and strive for success.
More recently, as reported on Four Corners, poorer schools like Toronto High School in Sydney and Hume Central Secondary College in Melbourne, have been able to buck the trend. By employing highly skilled, passionate teachers, and creating positive learning environments, their academic results improve enormously.
Further, this turnaround subsequently benefits the rest of the community, as it breaks the cycle of failure. Kids can aspire to achieve irrespective of their home environment. It creates a whole new mind-set, and a fresh, positive outlook.
So, while a schools’ socio-economic status can provide an indication of academic performance, schools lacking in funds aren’t always poor. The key to success for all schools, as Edworks recognises, is offering positive education — an environment in which teachers engage students, and where students constantly challenge and motivate each other.