UC research highlights potential inequalities in NSW education curriculum

The first report looking at access to and achievement in the NSW curriculum was released by University of Canberra researchers today, highlighting potential inequalities in access to the NSW Higher School Certificate (HSC).

Researchers have undertaken a comprehensive study of curriculum access and achievement in the NSW HSC, with reference to the socio-cultural characteristics of students and schools.

The study found that the socio-economic status of a student’s parents, school location and student gender continue to have significant influence on participation and performance in NSW.

Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University, Dr Philip Roberts said that there are some subjects studied by more advantaged students, and which contribute more to their final ATAR grade. Equally, some subjects are studied by less advantaged students and contribute less, or not at all, to a final ATAR grade.

“It seems we like to think that everyone has equal access to achieving in the NSW HSC, but our research shows that this is not quite the case,” said Dr Roberts.

“We also found that the NSW curriculum is organised into a hierarchy which operates in two related dimensions: the mean socio-economic status of students studying each subject, and the value that each subject carries towards a student’s ATAR.”

Dr Roberts says within school subject areas there are options which have greater or less weight towards a student’s ATAR. The study found the options that offer greater benefits are overwhelmingly studied by students from higher socio-economic status parents, and by students in the city.

The research also shows that gender continues to play a big role. For instance, females study the more service orientated subjects such as community and family studies and textiles and design at about eight times the rate of males. Males study more subjects such as engineering and software design at about eight times the rate of females.

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