Looking at Who is Included in
and Excluded from
by Lisa Kornhauser
Outcomes for individuals are an important and recurrent focal point in matters dealing with the education process. As argued in the Menzies report:
“Parents want more testing, across all schools and of all students and for the publication of the results (by school) so that they are better able to exercise choice.” (Golby, 2002, p. 7)
This chapter focuses on the inclusion/exclusion issue, specifically in relation to successful outcomes on a private and/or personal level. The issue has been prevalent and relatively constant since education was made compulsory for all children. By comparing graphs of chemistry results in 1947 (Teese, 1998, p. 407) and 1985 (Teese, 1998, p. 413) one can see from the nature of the students and schools they attend, that achieving successful outcomes has been maintained in chemistry at a relatively consistent ratio over that 38-year period. Collins notes that:
“As education has become more available, the children of the higher social classes have increased their schooling in the same proportions as children of the lower social classes have increased theirs: hence the ratios of relative educational attainment by social classes [have] remained constant throughout the last 50 years and probably before.” (Collins, 1979, p.53)
A significant number of students complete their VCE with the intention of proceeding to tertiary and post-secondary education. The education system in Victoria has undergone changes that should, theoretically, offer each of these students an equal opportunity for achieving their goal. Furthermore, the aim of most teachers is to provide the best possible education to their charges. Yet VCE results indicate that even with the best intentions in the world, there is an obvious incongruity between the public and the private school system when it comes to achieving excellence. Studies have shown that the majority of Victorian school students attend government and Catholic schools; students in the independent schools, however, predominantly achieve greater results than their government school counterparts in VCE (See Table below).
This discrepancy is a reflection of the larger socio-economic structures within which the population exists. As concisely stated by Simon Marginson (1997) “the structured inequalities in our society are nowhere more evident than in our school systems. Far from being a way out for poor people, schools act as a sorting, streaming mechanism helping to maintain the existing distribution of status and power” (Marginson, 1997, Ch.5). The VCE, being a fairly new system of testing, was created and implemented with the aim of eradicating this discrepancy (Teese, 2000). Its credo attests to fairness and equality to all students, regardless of socio-economic background, race, age and gender as seen by the content and intent of the study design. The reality fails miserably. Private, independent schools can be selective in their choice of students, are diversely funded and therefore can afford the best resources, teachers and students alike. By contrast, public schools (and Catholic schools) provide an education for all and rely on the government for funding and resources that often fall short in providing optimum learning environments.
Selection or Non-Selection
Whilst the performance of government schools in the VCE may not be of the highest quality in terms of scores achieved, some credit should be given where it is due. Independent and Catholic schools cater mainly to students who want to further their studies after high school. Yet government schools must cater to all students including those who wish to pursue post-secondary studies as well as vocational studies and more (Townsend, 2002). The Adelaide Declaration echoes this view: “Governments....enable a diverse range of educational choices and aspirations...”(MCEETYA, 1999) These include tertiary, TAFE and students who wish to start working once they have graduated.
The VCE is geared to tertiary selection and unduly constrains the secondary school curriculum by putting an emphasis on courses which have been designed and taught as preparation for specialised courses in tertiary institutions rather than as elements of a good general education (Schofield, 1988). Schofield explores the consequences of such a situation with her contention that “this is considered particularly unfortunate for the majority of students not heading for tertiary study, who become disheartened and leave school prematurely” (Schofield, 1988, p.18). Although these sentiments are over a decade old, it does not necessarily mean that much has changed. As recently as this year, Teese maintains that the factors leading to early school leaving include “the curriculum focus on university preparation, limited subject choice, narrower opportunities for achieving success and building self-esteem, and the risk of failure” (Teese, 2002, p.46 Unpublished).
Schofield also suggests that the ENTER score achieved in the VCE is a good predictor of at least first year university performance (Schofield, 1988). However according to some research, as Tony Townsend contends, it has been indicated that “students from government schools have a much better chance of completing their first year of study than those from non-government schools” (Townsend, 2002, p.9). This may be the result of the intense spoon-feeding and extra tutoring that often occurs within private schools. When these students reach university, they are left to rely on their own devices and may not have learnt how to fend for themselves, whereas most government school students have had to make it on their own from the beginning.
Use of Privilege
It is generally perceived that private schools have an exclusivity of access. The parent community associated with those schools is generally restricted to the middle and upper class levels of society. These parents want their children to receive the best education possible in order to maintain the wealth and elitist status that they themselves have secured. The Victorian matriculation system was changed to be more socially inclusive (Teese, 2000, p.42). However, this has a minimal effect on socio-economically challenged parents when it is the professional, well-to-do parents who are doing the changing. Although these same parents preach equality and give to charities to help the needy, they reject tenfold any move that impinges upon the success of their own family and status. They vigorously resist “when educators (pursuing a more egalitarian vision) propose elimination of some form of within-school distinction or another such as promoting multi-ability reading groups, ending curriculum tracking, or dropping the gifted and talented program” (Labaree, 1997, p. 53).
According to Teese “private schooling offers the convenience of public subsidies to reduce family costs, balanced by fees to maintain social exclusion” (Teese, 2000, p. 39). The ‘public subsidies’ he refers to is government funding, which is an ongoing and contentious issue, especially when such funding does not diminish the exclusion factor. The hefty fees ensure that it is the wealthier parents who can afford to send their children to private schools, making it impossible for less wealthy parents to do so. Private schools also “screen out the ‘rich but thick’ pupil and preserve the ability mix of classes in the subjects on which a school’s reputation depends” (Teese, 2000, p.39). A downfall of this, besides the obvious one of excluding lower classes from equal competition in the VCE is that the government schools cannot complain about lack of funds for fear of being shut down, or worse being given a bad reputation. A northern suburbs principal reiterates this succinctly when he claimed that “those who do very well in the education system don’t particularly want to acknowledge that other people do badly, and those who do badly don’t want to maximise the bad marketing.... of themselves” (Guy, 2002).
It is also these elitist independent private schools that can afford as Richard Teese asserts:
“...[to] run exam rehearsals, using papers privately prepared by associations of schools ... Senior teachers are enlisted in the official subject committees and examiners’ panels; they are active in professional subject associations; those who write textbooks are promoted, and the students who cannot read these works are weeded out or forced to sit the exams as private candidates.” (Teese, 2000, p. 39).
According to the Menzies Report, “the key to improved educational achievement by students lies in improved classroom teaching” (Caldwell and Roskam, 2002, p. 43) This includes class sizes as well as the teachers’ methodology. Private schools can afford smaller classes with more qualified and expert teachers, whereas government school teachers must deal with problem students, overflowing classes and less experience in the field than their counterparts.
Before World War II, one only had to have a secondary school qualification to gain entry into a course at the University of Melbourne. However, as the demand for places started to rise in the mid fifties, the University had to apply a quota (to the medical course at first and then across all courses) and encouraged students to seek alternative universities (Beswick et al., 1984, p. 4). “As Monash University developed, and then La Trobe University, students were directed to the new or restructured institutions by severely limiting the number to be admitted to the old university” (Beswick et al., 1984, p. 4). It must be acknowledged, however, that secondary and tertiary education sectors have expanded through the implementation of democratic equality goals based on notions that: all should have the chance to acquire a higher education; higher education is allied with Social Efficiency; and higher education will produce a better trained workforce. To counteract this expansion, a concomitant ‘need’ has emerged to keep control over private outcomes by excluding some from achieving those outcomes. Thus benchmarks of success have been raised: in 1947, in order to gain entry to University or a comparable institution, all one had to do was pass Year 12. Yet over time, due to population increases but a correspondingly lower increase in professional jobs, in 1985 one had to receive honours (Beswick et al., 1984).
By applying quotas to their courses, the universities have the ability to choose who is allowed in and who is not. This is exemplified by the VCE with its ranking system. Every VCE student is given an ENTER score and is ranked out of 100 at the end of Year 12 to help universities decide who should get into their courses (Townsend, 2002). “If every student who sits the VCE across the state improves their performance by 20 per cent, because of better teaching, more resources, or whatever, then the school with an average ENTER score of 60 now will still have an average score of 60. There may be a 20% increase in what students know and can do, but because everybody has improved there will be no change in the order” (Townsend, 2002, p. 9.) This just reiterates the theory of school replicating society.
Even more so than Australia, exclusion is deeply embedded in American universities. At the moment, besides paying HECS fees, attending university in Australia is free. However, in the USA, in order to go to an Ivy League College (the créme-de-la-créme) students have to take out bank loans because fees are approximately $30,000 a year. It is this type of financial burden, which is the main cause of the exclusion of the lower classes, from education at a tertiary level, which is slowly seeping into Australian education. At the end of 2002, the current minister for Education, Dr Brendan Nelson, will consider allowing universities to ask students to pay full fees as well as HECS (reported in The Age, 2002).
“Despite all the social idealism attached to education...the hope that education would lead us to the threshold of a just society in which inequalities due to personal background and circumstance have been eliminated, higher education remains as much as ever the domain of those in least need of the greater personal opportunity and self-realisation it commonly brings” (Anderson and Vervoorn, 1983, p. 2).
Teachers just starting out need to be aware of this situation so succinctly described by Anderson and Vervoorn. They should also be aware that their statement, like much of this essay, is highly generalised and that there are exceptions to the rule. Some teachers may be fortunate enough to be placed at schools that are the exception. Nevertheless, in any case teachers need to ask searching questions about their school’s goals - are students being prepared for vocational or academic tertiary education? The teaching should be geared to those goals accordingly.
In the final analysis, however, successful outcomes are results based. New teachers can help achieve high results by ensuring they are part of a team, attending curriculum meetings and consulting regularly with their colleagues. The initial research is in the hands of the VCE teachers who must find out and use the testing criteria set by the VCAA as the basis for teaching their subjects so that the best marks can be achieved. Information and consultation is then filtered down through the year levels regarding curriculum content and teaching methods to ensure a solid basis of preparation during the instructional years leading to VCE. The danger with this, as previously stated, is that students may not receive a well-rounded education, but one that is entirely geared towards the final VCE result. There may be a wider socio-economic spread of students with seemingly successful outcomes, but how much substantial knowledge will they have missed out on in the process? The ultimate goal is for the two to be united!
Anderson, D.S. and Vervoorn A.E. (1983). Access to Privilege: Patterns of Participation in Australian Post-Secondary Education, Canberra.
Ashendon, D. and Milligan, S. (2001) The Age Good School Guide 2001. Hobsons, Melbourne.
Beswick, D., Schofield, H., Meek, L. and Masters, G. (1984). Selective Admissions Under Pressure: An Evaluation and development study of student selection procedures at The University of Melbourne, The University of Melbourne.
Caldwell, B. and Roskam, J. (2002). Australia’s Education Choices: A Report to The Menzies Research Centre. April 2002, Victoria.
Collins, R. (1979) The credential society: An historical sociology of education and stratification. New York: Academic
Golby, J. (2002). “Review article - Australia’s educational choices” Schoolbell, June 2002.
Guy, R. (2002) “Can schools balance conflicting expectations?” in The Age: Education. pp. 14th August 2002.
Labaree, D.F. (1997). “Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle Over Educational Goals” in American Educational Research Journal Vol. 34 (1) pp. 39-81.
Marginson, S. (1997). Markets in Education, Allen and Unwin, St Leonard’s, NSW, Ch 5.
Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) (1999). The Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century, Curriculum Corporation, at: www.curriculum.edu.au/mceetya/nationalgoals/natgoals.htm
Schofield, H. (1988). Selection Criteria and Social Diversity: An evaluation of the Special Admissions Scheme. December, 1988.
Teese, R. (1998). “Curriculum Hierarchy, Private Schooling and the Segmentation of Australian Secondary Education, 1947-1985” in British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 19(3).
Teese, R. (2000). Academic Success & Social Power: Examinations and Inequality. Melbourne.
Teese, R. (2002). Early Leaving in Victoria: Geographical Patterns, Origins, and Strategic Issues. Educational Outcomes Research Unit, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, March 2002 (Unpublished paper).
Townsend, T. (2002). “State schools deserve support, not denigration” in The AEU News. 22nd August 2002.
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