Social divide widening in Australian schools

Mary Fogarty
Research Officer

Almost twice as many students at public schools come from low income families as from high income ones.

An analysis prepared for the Australian Education Union by Barbara Preston Research shows government schools had a nearly equal share of students from high and low income families in 1986. However, by 2011 the proportion of public school students from low income families was almost double the share from high income ones.

The research shows that students from low income families are increasingly concentrated in public schools while those from high income families are increasingly concentrated in private schools.

The analysis shows government schools educate about 64 per cent of all students, but about 75 per cent of all students from families with a weekly income of less than $1249. Catholic school enrol about 22 per cent of the nation’s students, but just 16 percent of the students from low income families, while independent school enrol just 10 per cent of these students despite educating 15 per cent of all students.

About 49 per cent of families with weekly incomes of more than $2500 send their children to government schools, while 27 per cent attend Catholic schools and 24 per cent attend independent schools.

There are also stark differences across Australia. Wealthier states are far more likely to enjoy a better social mix in their schools. Tasmania and South Australia have the lowest family 5 incomes and the widest social disparity.

Tasmanian school students are more than two and a half times as likely to have low family incomes as high family incomes.

In South Australia, government secondary schools enrol 57 percent of all students, but 71 per cent of the students from low income families, 57 per cent of the students from medium income families, and 35 per cent of the students from high income families.