Learning Catalysts: Improving Educational Outcomes for Disadvantaged Children

Learning Catalysts: Improving Educational Outcomes for Disadvantaged Children
Mark Western, Susan Creagh, Denise Clague, Janeen Baxter, Anne Hampshire, Gillian Considine, Lance Smith, Deborah Brennan, Anne Graham and Jen Skatterbool

Improving educational outcomes for disadvantaged students is essential to prevent the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage and enable social mobility. Australian education, although high quality, is highly unequal, with children from low socioeconomic status families achieving poorer outcomes than their advantaged peers. Although we understand the correlation of disadvantage with educational achievement, we do not clearly understand the channels of transmission of SES from parents to offspring. This paper reports on a collaborative project designed to investigate these channels.

We present analyses of a survey of students and their carers who are participants in The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program. This program includes a financial scholarship for educational essentials, supportive relationships with a Learning for Life Worker and sponsor and access to a range of learning support and mentoring opportunities, including programs that support parents. In 2010-11, around 34,000 young people received Learning for Life (LFL) scholarships.

Our data include a self-complete survey of over 7000 students in Year 5 – 12 and their carers completed in 2014/15, as well as linked administrative data on the students collected by The Smith Family on parental education and occupation, family structure, language use, access to computers, year level, school, school sector, school attendance rates, reason for program exit, date of exit and school report grades for current year. The key educational outcome variables we investigate are length of time on program, exit status, attendance rates and academic grades.

We first present a detailed demographic analysis of the socioeconomic circumstances of LFL families and then use regression techniques to model our outcome variables.By deepening our understanding of the circumstances of disadvantaged families and the factors which contribute to good or poor educational outcomes, the paper advances knowledge about mobility processes and mechanisms and about how education systems, families, schools and communities reproduce or ameliorate inequality.