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New podcast series questions the fairness of Australian schools

Education is often hailed as the ‘great equaliser’, but is it? Do schools eliminate inequality or help to reinforce it?

This is the question guiding this season’s All Things Equal podcast series, a collaboration between radio station 2SER and the Centre of Social Justice and Inclusion at UTS Sydney.

The new season, ‘Uniform’, explores issues surrounding education and equity in Australia and features Jane Caro and Verity Firth, among others.

The first 26-minute podcast focuses on why parents choose schools and the ways these choices reinforce education inequality in Australia.

Through an interview with Kate, a teaching assistant at a school referred to as ‘Goanna High’ for privacy reasons, listeners learn some troubling facts about Australian schooling.

Today 34 per cent of students attend a non-government school, significantly higher than the OECD average of 14 per cent. This, combined with the fact that school zoning has been relaxed in recent years, means that parents – particularly middle-class ones – have more choice than ever when it comes to where they send their child.

A culture of “school shopping” has developed to such an extent that parents are often seen as “negligent” if they to not take interest in this decision. This consumerist approach might be advantageous to some, but the reasons why parents choose schools also help to reinforce inequality.

For instance, parents often view NAPLAN results as a reflection of a school’s quality, but they frequently focus on the overall students results rather than the growth students have achieved. Consequently, more parents are sending their children to high-performing, high-SES schools, while enrolments at other schools decline. Because school resources are tied to enrolments, the net result is that schools with lower performing students from low-SES backgrounds are significantly disadvantaged.

Another ingredient on parents’ wish lists for schools is excellent resources, which includes facilities, equipment and teachers. According to Kate, ‘Goanna High’ has an excellent facade but inside it’s old, hot and the equipment is sub-standard. Schools with poor resources like this quickly get a reputation for being “ones to avoid”, which deprives them of even more resources and further reinforces disadvantage and inequality.

The podcast also tackles the vexed topic of government funding, a timely issue as Australians prepare to cast their vote in the upcoming Federal election on May 18. To listen to All Things Equal, go to https://t.co/xD9rxxJpm4.

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