Provision Of Academic Curricula In Upper Secondary Schooling: Perspectives From School Leaders

Year: 2015

Author: Perry, Laura, Ladwig, James, Lubienski, Chris

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Abstract:
Academic curricula offerings vary widely between secondary schools in Australia. Recent research has shown that between-school differences are closely related to school socioeconomic composition and school sector. Schools that enrol primarily students from advantaged social backgrounds provide a wide range of academic curricula. On the other hand, schools that enrol primarily students from disadvantaged social backgrounds provide a much more circumscribed offering of academic curricula. Even important academic subjects such as chemistry, maths, physics and literature are not offered in many low SES schools. These are marked inequalities in opportunities to learn given the importance of academic curricula for pathways to university, further study and high-status apprenticeships.
In this presentation we report the findings of our analysis of school leaders’ perspectives about curricula offerings in their respective schools. Curricula offerings in Australian schools are determined by school leaders, not by centralised authorities. As such, principals are well placed to provide insight about this problem. We interviewed 17 school principals about their rationales for curricula offerings in their school. We also asked them about alternatives for providing access to academic curricula that are not offered at their school. Our aim is to understand the reasons why curricula offerings vary so widely between schools, as well as possible solutions for remedying these opportunity to learn inequalities.
Preliminary findings show that multiple factors shape curricula offerings. First and most important is student demand and financial feasibility. Low SES schools in particular are affected by these conditions since they typically enrol fewer students. Second, principals discussed the importance of aligning curricula offering with student needs and abilities. Third, principals noted that market forces and the need to compete for students with other schools shaped their school’s curricula offerings. Principals also discussed their experiences of offering academic curricula through alternative mechanisms, such as online delivery and inter-school consortia.
We conclude the presentation with recommendations for improving upper secondary students’ access to academic curricula in Australia. First, we discuss the structural and practical barriers that limit equitable access to academic curricula. We then provide a range of solutions that could address these barriers. We conclude that school-based initiatives can ameliorate inequalities in opportunities to learn but are not a long-term solution. Rather, we argue that inequalities in opportunities to learn are a structural problem and as such, require a systemic solution.

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