Public diversity/private disadvantage: Ethnicity and the new compulsory schooling age in NSW

Year: 2012

Author: Reid, Carol

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


When NSW extended the compulsory schooling age from 15 to 17 years in 2010, there was little warning and no additional resources for schools. Scant consideration was given to the complex contexts that exist in the some of the most disadvantaged areas of Sydney. This presentation reports on a project that sought to understand the impact of the change on ethnically diverse schools in south-western Sydney. Findings suggest a policy disjuncture that is having a profound impact on schools of high minority ethnic diversity, particularly in low socioeconomic contexts: any advantages gained by extending the years of schooling (which is widely supported by parents, teachers and international research) have been limited by other policies that encourage increasing public diversity (such as school choice) because the latter has exacerbated the private disadvantage of some ethnic groups in some schools, particularly in schools working with students who are unwanted by other schools or whose parents are unable to exercise school choice due to income, language or minimal social capital. In some schools, gender balance is also emerging as an issue. Others are labelled due to the ethnic concentration of their student population. Following Connell (2011), the paper reveals the inherent contradictions of this 'freedom' among some of the most disadvantaged communities in Australia.     

This presentation draws on the voices of a range of community stakeholders (TAFE, welfare, work experience providers, BOS and other DECS staff) and 20 secondary school participants (principals, teachers, parents and students) to highlight the issues. Using Bourdieu (1984) as a theoretical frame the analysis focussed on the extent to which social and cultural capital emerged as constraints in the negotiation of changed social conditions in the lives of students, their families and the school communities. The themes emerged from a process that involved coding transcripts and writing up case studies focussed on the themes emerging in each school to enable a contextually bound narrative to emerge.

The concluding comments are concerned with the extent to which the 'ethnicity' of students, rather than the policy disjuncture this research has revealed, will be seen as the problem. Unless the underlying cause of the disadvantage is recognised and addressed, the inequitable opportunities for ethnically diverse young people, especially males, has the potential to feed into wider discourses pathologising their outcomes, particularly in terms of education and pathways to work and future employment.