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Evaluation of the Fair Education Program in New South Wales

In early 2020, CIRES completed a four-year project evaluating the Fair Education program in New South Wales for the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation (VFFF).

Fair Education is a major initiative introduced to help schools in disadvantaged areas achieve better outcomes and improve family and community involvement in student learning. In New South Wales, the program is funded by VFFF and delivered by Australian Schools Plus.

To achieve its goals, Fair Education provides support to participating schools through:

  • coaching and mentoring for school leaders
  • funding of a school‐focused project.

The CIRES research team adopted a mixed-methods approach for the program evaluation, to draw on a variety of data sources including:

  • online surveys and interviews of teachers, parents and school leaders
  • documentation provided by Australian Schools Plus on Fair Education schools
  • administrative data (e.g. attendance rates, school NAPLAN results).

One of the most important parts of the evaluation was conducting annual in-depth interviews with school leaders across participating schools.

The final evaluation report draws together the findings from across the evaluation period, 2016 until the end of 2019, to assess the implementation and impact of Fair Education.

The report also reflects on lessons from Fair Education for future government reforms or philanthropic bodies that wish to support disadvantaged schools in delivering improved outcomes for students and families.

Key reflections include:

  • Any broader application of Fair Education needs to take into account that its key benefit is derived from its independence from government.
  • The competitive selection process to join the program was important.
  • The design of Fair Education empowered school leaders to drive the improvements on their own terms.
  • The three year project funding and regular coaching visits supported schools to maintain a momentum towards their own objectives.
  • Fair Education provided school leaders with the opportunity to learn from one another and share their ideas about how to improve family and community engagement. This helped schools to develop authentic initiatives to support improvement, in contrast to traditional, systemic approaches to drive change.


Report: Impact of learning from home for disadvantaged children

In April 2020, CIRES Director Stephen Lamb was approached by the Australian Government’s Department of Education, Skills and Employment to prepare a report addressing the expected impact of home learning on disadvantaged students during COVID-19.

The report, prepared in collaboration with colleagues in CIRES and the Mitchell Institute, describes the kinds of students who are more vulnerable when learning from home, the various forms of disadvantage they face, the challenges teachers encounter to support students when teaching remotely, and the likely impact of home learning on student outcomes.

The report’s findings suggest that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, Indigenous students, students with disability, those in remote or very remote parts of Australia and those from non-English language backgrounds are most likely to experience home learning conditions that limit their ability to maximise their learning.

The researchers developed a typology of factors affecting home learning opportunities:

  • a material divide (in home cultural resources)
  • a digital divide (in ICT resources)
  • a skills and dispositions divide (in student readiness for self-directed learning)
  • a parental support divide (in supporting/assisting with learning), and
  • an adjustments divide (for students in need of learning adjustments typically provided in schools).

These inequalities between households can widen the learning gaps between students when learning from home, and disadvantaged students are more likely to fall behind in their learning because of them.

The report identified a wide range of skills and competencies that teachers need to effectively deliver teaching for students learning at home, including pedagogical skills, ICT-related skills and communication skills. Not all teachers feel confident in their ability to use these effectively in online delivery, and adequate support and professional learning resources are not always available to them. These issues are often compounded when teaching disadvantaged students.

In the report, the research team estimated the expected loss of learning that would occur for disadvantaged students learning from home. We found that the learning gains that low SES students typically make in face-to-face classrooms would be reduced by 15-23 per cent in reading and as much as 27-33 per cent in numeracy depending on the year levels. The adverse effect of online learning would be comparable for Indigenous students and more limited for non-English background students. The impact is also likely to be greater for primary than secondary school students.