How have the government's efforts to 'close the gap' affected education?

A report released by the New South Wales Auditor-General ˜Improving the literacy of Aboriginal students in NSW public schools' has indicated that no significant progress has been made over the past ten years in terms of improving literacy among Indigenous students. It has stressed that the federal government's goal to halve the gap in educational disadvantage by 2018 is unattainable.

The report has identified a number of factors often outside the control of schools that affect educational outcomes for Indigenous students, reasoning that targets and current programs should be re-evaluated to work around these. This includes school-related factors such as past negative experiences and poor student “teacher relationships, and non-school factors such as low parental involvement with education, low household income and language barriers.

DoorsThe main issues highlighted by the report include:

  • Targets ” The report has stressed that targets suggested are not realistic and do not help schools to improve students outcomes. It has suggested that schools set targets based on individual student needs.
  • Support ” It has been identified that there is a risk that support is not provided in a timely manner and that approaches may not be consistent within or between schools, suggesting that more consistent and practical diagnostic services are needed.
  • Outcome tracking The report has warned that there are no warnings when students are deemed at risk and no tracking of student interventions and outcomes, stressing that there are a range of intervention options that may be utilised and that all students should have access to appropriate support.
  • Community involvement Although schools use various methods to ensure parental and community involvement (such as cultural awareness programs), there is no indication of the state government's efforts to promote this involvement.
  • Failure to evaluate ” The report has found that the state government does not routinely evaluate its programs, meaning that it is unable to identify the cost effectiveness of programs or how they have contributed to increases in literacy. This also means that the government is unable to determine funds needed or how best to use allocated funding.

Has literacy improved among Indigenous students?

The report has stressed that literacy rates among Indigenous students have not shown any real signs of improvement over the past decade.

Using an analysis of state-wide NAPLAN results, and previous testing system the LAP test, the report found that literacy among Indigenous students experienced little improvement between 2001 and 2011. It has noted that there is still a significant gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

An update on the gap

The report found that:

  • 58 per cent of New South Wales primary schools with at least five per cent of students from an Indigenous background show a ˜major gap' between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students only 22 per cent of schools show ˜no gap'.
  • the gap is higher in schools with a higher proportion of Indigenous students. Among Year 9 students, for example, there is a gap of more than 20 percentage points between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at schools with a five per cent Indigenous enrolment. In schools with an Indigenous enrolment of 25 per cent or more, this increases to around 53 percentage points.

A similar trend is seen among Year 7 students with a gap of almost 60 percentage points observed in schools with a high Indigenous enrolment.

The report has also stressed that schools identified to have a major gap are just as likely to be located in major cities as in remote or regional areas, rejecting ideas that that educational disadvantage is confined to remote Indigenous communities.

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