Delivering an equitable education system through shared commitment

By Dr Lee-Anne Perry AM, Executive Director, Queensland Catholic Education Commission

Equitable education systems provide equal learning opportunities to all students irrespective of their personal circumstances.

Indeed, research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reveals equitable schooling systems are central components of strong economies and cohesive societies.

Equity does not mean that all students obtain equal education outcomes, but rather, differences in student outcomes do not arise as a result of their background or economic and social circumstances.

Supporting students to stay at school is important both from a social-justice perspective to recognise the right of every student to access a high-quality education and also to promote social cohesion and diminish the human and financial costs associated with the consequences of poor education outcomes.

Writing in his foreword to the 2018 OECD Equity in education: breaking down barriers to social mobility report, Andreas Schleicher OECD Director for Education and Skills reminds us that despite a student or a school’s postcode being the best predictor for the quality of education students acquire, there are many students who succeed despite predicted failure.

In fact, on average across OECD countries, more than one in ten disadvantaged students are among the top quarter of achievers in science.

Such knowledge makes it incumbent on every one of us working in Queensland’s education sector to strive to deliver an equitable education system that ensures every child has a chance to succeed irrespective of their postcode or personal circumstances.

As an important part of the fabric of our Queensland communities, Catholic schools are well-placed to make a profound contribution to delivery of an equitable education system in Queensland.

Today there are 306 Catholic schools across Queensland providing education for more than 147,000 students.

The heart of our work focuses on the holistic education of young people, within our Catholic faith tradition, to achieve the best possible academic outcomes and to grow to be resilient individuals, respectful of all others, able to shape their own futures, build meaningful lives and contribute to their communities, wherever they might be in Queensland.

Our Catholic schools come in many shapes and sizes from our small rural schools to large metropolitan colleges, from boarding schools to FlexiSchools for disengaged students, drawn together through a common heritage and a commitment to an equitable education system.

Most of the time our mainstream schools can meet the needs of young people, providing high-quality cognitive, social and emotional responses that support students to succeed.

However, we know that a small number of young people benefit from alternative schooling.

In the Catholic and independent school sectors, alternative schooling is provided through special assistance school sites.

The state sector also has a small number of alternative learning schools, or ‘FlexiSchools’, a Queensland Pathways State College, and Positive Learning Centres.

Each of these alternative school settings provide tailored learning environments for young people who struggle to thrive in mainstream education settings.

The alternative school settings also deliver high-quality teaching and learning so young people in these settings can experience learning opportunities equal to their peers in mainstream settings.

I was pleased to collaborate with Tony Cook Director-General, Queensland Department of Education and David Robertson Executive Director of Independent Schools Queensland to co-sign Quality Pathways for all young people: A commitment to alternative education (a Statement of Commitment).

This commitment is important for several reasons.

Firstly, and most importantly, it outlines how alternative school settings make a vital contribution to achieving an equitable school system.

Secondly, it offers legislative and policy clarity for schools across all sectors, and documents requirements specified in either the Education (Accreditation of Non-State Schools) Regulation 2017 for non-state schools and Queensland’s Education Act 2006 in the case of state schools.

Thirdly, the document sets high expectations and provides support and resources for alternative education settings, so high quality standards can be reached.

Finally, the statement recognises the importance of partnerships and shared responsibility across all school settings.

It outlines best practice in making transitions from mainstream schools to alternative schools, and highlights the roles and responsibilities of mainstream schools to exhaust every in-school option open to them to engage a young person before an alternative setting is considered.

For Catholic schools to flourish, we need to ensure that our schools are part of a broader education system focused on the future of every student and their capacity to achieve their potential and contribute to our community.

It is only through ensuring every school, irrespective of its mode of delivery, delivers a high-quality educational experience that we can cultivate an equitable education system.

As our education system evolves in an ever-changing political and social context, we must remain committed to our Catholic ethos of collaborating and advocating for the common good.

A copy of the statement is available on the Queensland Government’s Advancing Education website.