The compounding impact of health, disability and financial disadvantage on educational outcomes: the need for nuanced policy responses to disadvantage.

Engagement at school is crucial to academic achievement, school completion, future employment, and long-term life outcomes. Australian students from disadvantaged backgrounds generally have poorer educational and post-school outcomes than other students. Within fundamentally disadvantaged families there are a range of vulnerabilities that increase the risk of poor educational outcomes for children, including health and disability issues.

This presentation is based on findings from an ARC funded Linkage Grant - the Learning Catalysts study, involving researchers from the Institute of Social Science Research at the University of Queensland, the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University and The Smith Family. The Smith Family is a national children's charity, currently supporting more than 36,000 financially disadvantaged Australian children and young people through the evidence-based Learning for Life scholarship program.

The Learning Catalysts study has three broad aims, to:
1. examine the circumstances of socioeconomically disadvantaged families and students.
2. identify the factors that contribute to improved educational outcomes for students from disadvantaged families.
3. build the evidence base to better design and implement programs that are intended to improve educational outcomes of these students.

The study used a mixed-method approach in which administrative data was linked with survey responses from approximately 6,000 Learning for Life students and 4,000 of their primary carers. Interviews were also conducted with 32 matched pairs of students and their primary carers.

This presentation focuses on one key issue that has emerged from the study. While the vast majority of students in this study are attending mainstream school, approximately 40 percent are struggling with significant health and disability issues. This presentation examines how financial disadvantage and the poor health and/or disability of a child influences family circumstances and negatively affects a child's experience of school and their educational outcomes.

The findings highlight the need for tailored responses that address the specific educational barriers faced by financially disadvantaged students who have significant health or disability issues. The Smith Family's policy and practice responses are discussed.