Social Inequality and languages in secondary schools

Year: 2019

Author: Cruickshank, Ken

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Students in low-SES schools have limited access to the study of languages in most contexts where languages are not a central part of the curriculum. There is a growing body of research in the UK and North America but ithe issue has received little attention in Australia. This is surprising because the social inequality is ore marked. This paper explores the marginalisation of languages, especially community languages in secondary schools in NSW. It draws on findings from an ARC Linkage grant 2011-2016. We collected cross-systemic data over a five year period; we conducted a large scale survey of staff attitudes to and experiences of languages learning; and we carried out case studies in 42 schools, involving interviews with teachers, school principals and executive, parents, students and classroom observations.

The key findings in terms of secondary schools were that languages teaching in many lower-SES schools had contracted to teaching the 100 mandatory hours in Years 7 and 8; that there is often a sole languages teacher with few elective languages classes; that community languages are being marginalised out of mainstream schools.

The paper will present data from our study explaining these findings and why so many initiatives aimed at reversing the decline in languages have not succeeded. We explore the impact of factors such as growing division in schooling, cultural diversity, tertiary ranking and the urban/ regional divide. We will also look at secondary school languages programs - lighthouse schools - which have continued to thrive and the implications of these programs for finding solutions to this problem.