Skip to main content

Opinion piece in The West Australian - Ensuring quality education for all children, regardless of their background

by Annie Fogarty AM, Ambassador for the Commissioner for Children and Young People WA and Chairperson of Fogarty Foundation

Every child deserves a quality education: But even in a wealthy country like Australia, with free K -12 schooling, this is not always the reality. Education provides the opportunity for individuals to learn about their world, develop their abilities and lead purposeful lives. 

Collectively, a better educated society is one that is more productive and cohesive, providing meaningful employment with less call on the health, welfare and justice systems. 

A good society is one that provides opportunities for people to thrive.   And to do this we need quality education for all. 

Sadly at the moment, this is not the case.  Australia’s educational performance is declining.  According to PISA – the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment - not only is Australia’s performance declining in relation to other countries, but reading, maths and scientific literacy scores in our 15 year old age bracket have declined significantly since 2000, equivalent to nearly a full year of schooling. 

Australia has a long tail of underachievement, where a significant proportion of students are not meeting even minimal education outcomes:  28% of Year 7s are not literate enough to be able to access further learning.  By the age of 15 years of age, Australia’s most disadvantaged students are three years behind their most advantaged peers.  We know that students who perform poorly by 15 are at risk of dropping out of school. Numerous studies show that low levels of literacy and numeracy skills limit access to well-paid and rewarding jobs and are further reflected in poorer health outcomes.

We also know that the majority of students who are underachieving, attend schools in low-socio economic communities.   These children often face challenges that makes it difficult for them to access education, including poverty, homelessness, unemployment or underemployment at home.  There is often a lack of access to resources and early learning, which can result in students not being developmentally school ready.

Students from households with less educated parents are 4 years behind students from highly educated parents.

1 in 2 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults don’t finish schools. This gap has remained the same for the past decade.

The share of young people not learning or earning is 50% in the most disadvantaged communities, compared with 13% of young people from more affluent backgrounds.

We need to do better in assisting children and young people to access, and benefit, from meaningful education. All our children.

Every child deserves a quality education, regardless of their postcode.

These students, and the schools they attend, need extra support so they can address these challenges.

Having worked with schools across Western Australia, I know first hand the need to have a common moral purpose, where all staff members are working to ensure that their students are progressively learning, is paramount to the success of any educational provider.  This includes using evidence-based instruction, particularly in the foundations of learning - literacy and numeracy.

Schools also need to have to have co-ordinated and well-funded approaches to support staff and programs such school psychologists, speech pathologists, mental wellbeing programs and academic interventions to ensure that those students in need of differentiated literacy and numeracy help receive it.

Good relationships with parents and the community also engender better learning and wellbeing outcomes for students. 

Schools are a mirror of our society, and just as mental health issues are on the rise in our community, they are also on the rise in our schools, with students experiencing increased rates of anxiety and mental health problems. 

Students living in disadvantage and dysfunction suffer higher rates of these issues than average and often require targeted and long term support build their ability to be resilient and proactive participants in their learning and life choices.   This includes having knowledge of their educational rights and where they can get help when their rights are not being met. 

As an Ambassador for the Commissioner for Children and Young People, the mission to improve education outcomes for all Western Australian children is close to my heart and I support the Commissioner’s work and endeavours to develop policies that facilitate this.   

 I share with her the vision that all children and young people are heard, are healthy and safe, reach their potential and are welcomed as valued members of the community.  Ensuring that all our children have access to quality education is a major step towards that.

We have so many opportunities here in Australia:  And to make the most of these, all Australian children need access to quality education.

Published in The West Australian on 7 July 2022 under the headline 'Our poorest falling behind'

You might be interested in