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Social Justice & Schools Policy

These papers and reports cover social justice issues in schooling and society, including the social and cultural relationships between public and private schools and within school sectors, and how government policies shape these relationships.

They deal with key topics education in Australia including the residualisation of public schooling, teacher professionalism, digital inclusion and ability, socio-economic status scoring methodology, and the social makeup of public and private schools in Australia. The reports and submissions use a variety of data sources, including Australian Bureau of Statistics census data, to provide evidence to support their arguments and recommendations. These works have contributed to the ongoing discourse around education policy in Australia and their findings and insights have been influential in shaping public debate and policy decisions.

October 2023 - Barbara Preston, "Funding, Equity and Achievement in Australian Schools: A report on a national symposium", Barbara Preston Research, Canberra.

This report provides an overview of a policy symposium held at the Faculty of Education, University of Melbourne in April 2023. The symposium brought together key stakeholders and leading educational researchers and policy analysts from around Australia. They reviewed the directions of education policy and outcomes, discussed the current architecture of school funding, governance and organisation, and considered future policy options. Symposium participants recognised that we are at a critical time: achieving excellence and equity is increasingly difficult as the social segregation of students across Australian schools increases. This segregation is largely an unintended consequence of the internationally unique levels and conditions of public funding of private schools since the 1970s. The levels and conditions take no account of the public sector's unique and costly responsibilities, obligations and constraints, and the private sector's concomitant freedoms.

July 2020 — Barbara Preston, “On public education, the digital divide and teacher professionalism", interview by John Graham, in Professional Voice (journal of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Education Union), Vol. 13, Issue 2, Spring 2020.

I first worked for teacher unions as a campaign/research officer in 1979. This interview ranges over some major issues I worked on as an employed and independent researcher from then until mid 2020, and includes a description of the very different research officers’ work practices in the 1980s. Topics covered include the dynamics of residualisation of public schooling in relation to private schooling since the late 1970s; education as social infrastructure and an investment and foundation for culture, society and the economy; teacher professionalism as democratic, collective and strategic; and the importance of good evidence for education policy. Many of the publications arising from that work are summarised and linked on this and other pages of this website.

June 2020 — Barbara Preston, "Digital inclusion for all public school students", Barbara Preston Research, Canberra.

COVID-19 brought about remote learning for school students throughout Australia, and “digital inclusion" is necessary for successful remote learning. Digital inclusion requires not only access to appropriate hardware and software that is affordable, but also “digital ability", which includes enthusiasm, confidence and a sense of control when using the internet and software, as well as experience, skills, and knowledge in use of devices and the internet. The digital ability of parents and carers is especially important for younger students. This report for the Australian Education Union drew on 2016 ABS Census data to show the lack of digital access and affordability for many thousands of Australian students, as well as the family, household and housing circumstances that contribute to a lack of digital inclusion. The analysis of Census data is placed in the context of reports on the concept and extent of digital inclusion, the impact of the 2019-20 bushfires, and the early impact of COVID-19.

2019 — Barbara Preston, "Reforming Replacement Teaching: A Game Changer for the Development of Early Career Teaching?", in A. Sullivan et al. (eds.), Attracting and Keeping the Best Teachers, Professional Learning and Development in Schools and Higher Education 16, Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019.

This chapter is a critical exploration of early career teaching in contemporary Australia and beyond. It highlights the challenges faced by early career teachers who often find themselves in insecure, low-paying, and unsatisfying replacement teaching roles. It emphasizes the importance of stable and supportive administrative arrangements, effective induction and mentoring programs, and a professional school culture for the development and retention of effective teachers. In response to these challenges, the chapter proposes strategies for professionalizing replacement teaching, ensuring the availability of high-quality replacement teachers, and facilitating a smooth transition into the teaching profession for recent graduates.

March 2018 — Barbara Preston, Submission to the National Schools Resourcing Board Review of the socio-economic status score methodology, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra.

In this submission I returned to the argument that I have made many times since the introduction of the socio-economic status (SES) score methodology for allocating “needs-based" federal funds to private schools: that using an area-based measure to estimate students’ (and thus schools’) socio-economic status involves an ecological fallacy and is quite inappropriate. To support my argument I drew on two major sources: Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data on students’ family income by type of school attended by the ABS SocioEconomic Index for Areas (SEIFA) of students’ home locality, and, for a number of individual schools, a comparison between their ICSEA (Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage) scores on the My School website between 2009 (when the score was area-based) and 2010 (when the score was largely based on information from individual students’ parents). See also 2010 posts below.

February 2018 – Barbara Preston, The social make-up of schools: Family income, Indigenous status, family type, religion, languages spoken, disability, home internet access, housing tenure, and geographic mobility of students in public, Catholic and independent schools, a report prepared for the Australian Education Union, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra.

This report is largely based on Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census data, and follows earlier analyses of the 2001, 2006 and 2011 censuses. In it I examined the social make-up of the public and two private school sectors (Catholic and independent) according to students’ family income, Indigenous status, family type (single parent), religion (Catholic and Islamic), languages spoken (and English proficiency), disability, home internet access, housing tenure, and geographic mobility. Most analyses incorporate family income, and some include additional factors. For example, Indigenous students at all family income levels were around four times as likely as other students not to have access to the internet at home. In addition to circumstances in 2016, I investigate changes over recent years and since 1976 – a time of important turning points in Australian schooling. The report includes data from the National Schools Statistics Collection (published by ABS in the Schools Australia series), and there is a detailed analysis of differences between statistics for 2016 in the NSSC and the Census for all students and for Indigenous students (for whom there are some substantial and intriguing differences).

April 2017 – Barbara Preston, ‘Perverse outcomes of national policy decisions intended to promote equality of opportunity: The Australian experience’, a paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, 27 April – 1 May 2017, San Antonio Texas

In this paper I investigated and explained (for an American audience) the origins of the entrenched inequalities in the contemporary Australian schooling system and show how the system has developed, especially since the 1970s “settlement" that created the framework for the current programs for funding private at rates that are exceedingly generous by international standards while allowing the autonomy of the private sectors. The debates and political forces that led to the 1970s settlement and subsequent developments are discussed in some detail. The paper investigates the contradictions and powerful unintended consequences of the settlement. Over the decades the public funding, enrolment shares and relative SES of the private sectors have burgeoned, and, within both the public and private sectors, schools have become more differentiated by SES, ethnicity, public esteem and resources.

2017 – Barbara Preston, 'Public submission made to the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools'

In this submission I focus on preventing and ameliorating residualisation and segregation in schools as much as possible, improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all students, especially the most disadvantaged, and improving the outcomes of schooling for the Australian community as a whole.

17 July 2014 – Barbara Preston, ‘State school kids do better at uni’, The Conversation.

In this short article I summarised research from Australia and England on the relationships between students’ type of secondary school attended (public or private; selective or comprehensive; single sex or co-educational) and success at university when tertiary entrance scores are controlled. The common finding was that students from public, comprehensive and coeducational schools generally did better at university, and I discussed some of the many possible explanations. The article was widely debated and shared – there were numerous media reports and republications, more than 160,000 reads, and more than 36,000 Facebook shares.

May 2013 – Barbara Preston, The social make-up of schools:Family income, Indigenous status, family type, religion and broadband access of students in government, Catholic and other nongovernment schools, a report prepared for the Australian Education Union, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra

In this report I analysed Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011 Census data for school students by the type of school attended (public, Catholic private, or independent private), by family income, Indigenous status, family type, religion and broadband access, for primary and secondary levels in all states and territories. The report provides evidence to support the recommendations of the Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling, and documents the continuing residualisation of public schooling in Australia.

August 2011 – Barbara Preston, School enrolment shares by sector in the Australian Capital Territory, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra

This investigation into the reasons for the shares of enrolments in the ACT between the public, Catholic and independent private school sectors was prompted by media reports when the public sector became less than 50% at the years 7 to 10 (high school) level in 2011. The reasons include the history and pace of development in the ACT, religion and income, urbanisation, patterns of urban planning, and the structure of schooling in the ACT.

April 2011 – Barbara Preston, Submission to the Review of Funding for Schooling, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra

My submission to the Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling covers a broad range of matters in this ‘wicked’ policy area, including the historical relationships between public and private schooling going back to the attempts of Frank Tate, Victorian director general of education in the early 1900s, to establish public secondary schooling in face of powerful opposition from private schooling interests.

November 2010 – Barbara Preston, Red mud sticks and stains: The biases of the Index of Socio-Educational Advantage, a presentation to the Australian Association for Research in Education annual conference, Melbourne, 28 November to 1 December

This polemical presentation was part of a symposium on the Australian Government-initiated My School website. In it I develop the theme of the March 2010 Notes on the ecological fallacy (see below), and use 2006 Census data to illustrate the way area-based indexes of socio-educational disadvantage for comparisons between schools are systematically biased against public schools. I also discuss the bias in similar inter-school comparisons against comprehensive schools that both lose high-achieving students to selective schools and enroll those who are not high-achieving who would have attended a particular selective school if it had not been selective.

March 2010 – Barbara Preston, Notes on the ecological fallacy and area-based indexes of disadvantage applied to schooling in Australia, Barbara Preston Research, Canberra

This short paper was widely circulated in early 2010 and was influential in the developing critique of the method then being used to determine the socio-economic status of schools on the My School website.

October 2008 – Barbara Preston, Civic heritage and schooling, a presentation to the Independent Scholars Association of Australia annual conference, Canberra, 16-17 October 2008

A broad sweep of conceptual and theoretical approaches to a diversity of issues in schools structures, policies and practices are considered in this analysis of public schooling as civic heritage.

1999 — Barbara Preston, Impact of boarding schooling – Submission to Human Rights Commission Rural and Remote Education Inquiry

In this submission I discussed the impact of boarding school policies and practices on the provision and quality of schooling in rural and remote Australia. I estimated financial and social costs to rural communities, and recommended strategies in response.

In much of rural and remote Australia there are powerful cultural traditions, going back over several generations, of sending children away to major metropolitan or regional centres to nongovernment boarding schools for secondary education. This is an understandable choice for many families. However, the leaving of rural and remote areas for secondary education by many students seriously affects the quality and provision of secondary education in those regions, as the student numbers and the political pressure is not there for school authorities to establish or adequately support schools, and what schooling there is, is residualised by ‘middle class flight’. Thus a vicious circle is created and exacerbated. There is also an economic loss to the local communities as teacher salaries and other school expenditures are not locally spent, and as families spend money that would be otherwise spent locally on boarding and tuition fees and other expenses in the metropolitan and regional cities. There is a social and cultural loss for affected rural communities as the number of teachers and other school workers is less than it would otherwise be.

1993 – Barbara Preston, Privatising public schooling: its causes and consequences, in Jill Blackmore & Jane Kenway (eds) 1993, Gender Matters in Educational Administration and Policy, Deakin Studies in Education Series 11, The Falmer Press, pp. 146-156

This chapter places the privatisation of Australian schooling in a historical, social and political context, shows how it inter-relates with general attitudes to the role of government, and makes clear that the privatisation of schooling is a feminist issue. The book’s editors wrote in their introductory comments: ‘Barbara Preston’s chapter on the social wage, and universal versus residual social services … points to the positive and negative ways in which the state may participate in the structuring of wages and in the provision of social services. Her discussion of universal social services is an important contribution to the public/private education debate and offers a set of principles which affirm and enhance the case for public education at both the school and tertiary level. However, the implications of her chapter go beyond the matter of education … [with a] strong case for universal social services… Barbara’s paper alerts us to the importance for feminism of an engagement with policy issues which may, at first glance, not directly appear as “women’s issues".’ (p. 12) The chapter is based on a presentation to the national conference, ‘Gender issues in the theory and practice of educational administration and policy’, Deakin University, Victoria, November 1987.

May 1984 – Barbara Preston, Residualisation: What’s that? in The Australian Teacher,No. 8, May 1984, pp. 5,6 & 15

In this short article in the Australian Education Union’s journal, The Australian Teacher, I introduced the notion of ‘residualisation’ to the policy debate around schooling.