segregation effects on australian indigenous primary school achievement

Outline of the research

Standardised test measures across different sectors of education in Australia indicate that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have consistently lower levels of educational achievement compared to other Australians. This is a substantial issue for educators, policy-makers, and communities alike. While there have been improvements in Indigenous educational outcomes over time, there is still a substantial disparity across all education sectors. Segregation between Indigenous Australians and other Australians may be an influencing factor. Indigenous Australians comprise 3% of the total population, yet almost 60% of Aboriginal Australians reside in areas ranked in the bottom 3 deciles of the Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage (IRSD). The concentration of Indigenous students in areas and schools with higher levels of socio-economic disadvantage may act to reinforce Indigenous students’ inequality in schooling outcomes.

Dr Jenny Dean from the University of Canberra’s Education Faculty examined the effect of segregation in primary schools on levels of achievement in New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland, focusing on Year 5 reading and numeracy achievement levels. As one of the central components of her research, she focused on two main questions:

  1. Is the proportion of Indigenous young people in an area associated with the mean reading/numeracy scores of the schools located within that area?
  2. Is the proportion of Indigenous students in a school associated with the mean reading/numeracy scores of the school?

Use of the AURIN facility was fundamental to my research. Only a few studies in Australia examine Indigenous schooling from a spatial perspective such as this, and statistical research merging different datasets in the education field is also not that widespread. So the potential for further use of AURIN for this kind of research needs to be better understood and appreciated

– Dr Jenny Dean

How AURIN was used

A range of area characteristics at Statistical Area 2 (SA2) level were sourced from the AURIN Portal for inclusion in this research. These characteristics included the IRSD index score and decile ranking for SA2s, the school aged population overall, and the proportion of the school aged population that identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. These datasets are provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics through the AURIN Workbench and were combined with school variables into a single unique dataset for analysis – including the school’s location and characteristics, and National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) achievement data – provided by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.

Impact of Research

Dr Dean showed that, after controlling for the effect of socioeconomic status at both school and SA2 level, there are significant effects of Indigenous segregation on reading and numeracy scores, although these effects are not uniform nor fully explain the variation in NAPLAN Year 5 reading and numeracy outcomes.

Dr Dean also showed that disadvantage (which is more complex than poverty alone) decreases student schooling achievement, and concentrating students with these markers of disadvantage in certain schools reduces it further. The results of this research underscore the need to focus on equitable educational achievements within and across schools, especially as disparities in outcomes between government and non-government schools are becoming starker due to historical and current funding arrangements across the different sectors. The research also suggested that partnerships between schools (including their leadership teams) with Indigenous communities and community leaders, Indigenous teachers and teaching assistants, as well as parents are all key to improving indigenous achievement across sectors and schools.