ACT public schools divided by class
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ACT public schools divided by class

Canberra parents are contributing to rich-poor divides in education, a report has found, as new statistics show almost 40 per cent of students do not attend their local school.

A report commissioned by the Education Directorate and written by leading education academic Stephen Lamb has found that well-off and aspirational families move their children to high-flying government and non-government schools.

A new report has found Canberra parents are moving their children to well-off schools.

A new report has found Canberra parents are moving their children to well-off schools.

Photo: Nic Kocher

This "leaves schools in some communities with residues of concentrated poverty or students with higher needs, making it harder for these schools to achieve the same outcomes for students", Professor Lamb wrote.

The Government school performance in the ACT report said student movement contributed to the ACT's poor showing when comparing schools' NAPLAN results with their counterparts interstate.

"The levels of segregation of students in the ACT, due in large part to residential segregation, the sector organisation of schools and market forces associated with supply and demand, tend to reinforce patterns of inequality and strengthen differences in school performance," Professor Lamb wrote.

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Directorate statistics released this week show 38 per cent of public school students attend schools outside their enrolment area.

"This data does not take into account students who may have been within the school enrolment area when they originally enrolled and have since relocated," a spokeswoman said.

Professor Lamb found that high-demand ACT schools, often in areas with a higher socioeconomic status and with higher NAPLAN scores, were more likely to enrol children from outside the local area.

Lower-SES schools with lower NAPLAN scores were more reliant on local students.

"They are also, as a result, more often smaller, and with higher concentrations of students with additional learning needs," Professor Lamb wrote.

"This means that students from lower SES backgrounds and other disadvantaged categories of students tend to struggle more because of the extent of segregation.

"The impact of this process of 'residualisation' is the creation of sought-after schools that become large due to demand, and other schools that face the pressure of declining enrolments and a residual population of more disadvantaged students with higher or additional learning and support needs."

The bulk of Professor Lamb's report was based on his findings that the ACT was not reaching its potential in NAPLAN testing. His analysis was quoted in an Auditor-General report which also concluded that Canberra government schools did not perform as well as similar schools interstate.

Professor Lamb listed two possible solutions to the ACT's problems.

"One issue is about what happens to schools that are selectively avoided or by-passed by certain families," he said.

"Support has to be provided at a regional level to ensure such schools can work with others to share responsibility.

"The second issue is at a system level about skill development particularly in maths but also literacy. Attention has to be focused on improvement."

The Education Directorate spokeswoman said Professor Lamb's report would be used to inform its Future of Education work - a community conversation based on creating greater equity in the education system.

"This information is really important for us and we will work with this data to further improve our already strong education system," she said.

"We will use this opportunity through Future of Education to have a conversation about enrolment areas and how this impacts the overall performance of our education system."

Emily Baker

Emily Baker is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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