Equitable and Empowering School Settings: Reducing the gap between advantage and disadvantage
Conway, Natalie and Paton, D, Equitable and Empowering School Settings: Reducing the gap between advantage and disadvantage, ICERI 2011 Conference Proceedings, 14th - 16th November 2011, Madrid, Spain, pp. 004678-004686. ISBN 978-84-615-3324-4 (2011) [Conference Extract]
documented, including links with low self-esteem, difficulty making and maintaining friendships,
learned helplessness, reduced confidence in ability to learn and be successful, low achievement
motivation, attention problems, maladaptive behaviours and increased risk of suicide.
In Australia, the need to provide high quality, and equitable, education to all young Australians is
highlighted in The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians . Policies,
such as the implementation of a nationwide curriculum, strive for delivery of high quality and equitable
education with regards to the curriculum taught but it does not address how equity in regards to
educational outcomes for socially disadvantaged groups is attained.
It is argued that attempts to remedy academic difficulties often target learning outcomes at the
individual level (e.g., school based reading recovery programmes) reflecting the perspective that
difficulties sit within the individual. This approach to intervention fails to take into consideration the
ecological influences on the learning process and social context in which learning occurs. The benefits
of moving from an individual perspective to a systems level perspective (e.g., ecological model), and
therefore a systemic model of intervention, is reflected in the community psychology and Positive
Youth Development literature. These approaches emphasise that development occurs as part of an
interaction between the individual and their environment (i.e., school) and that when there is a
‘goodness of fit’ between the individual and the environment, optimal development occurs.
What is missing in the literature is an understanding of the personal learning experience of students
and how individual characteristics (i.e., personal experiences and competencies) and social contexts
interact with structures and processes within the school and impact on learning outcomes. Further, it is
argued that greater consideration should be given to how educational activities and policies which
influence the social/cultural context (e.g., National Assessment Programmes for Literacy and
Numeracy) are developed and implemented within schools, and how school settings themselves
influence the development of not only academic achievement but social and emotional development.
Further research is needed to clarify how equitable outcomes can be enacted within school settings
characterised by diversity and to define ‘how’ the curriculum should be taught in ways that facilitate
inclusivity and engagement in addition to ‘what’ should be taught. It is argued that understanding the
‘how’ identifies an issue missing in the academic achievement literature.
Drawing on empowerment theory, this paper discusses the development of an overarching theory that
can guide decision making and inform policy development that facilitates equitable academic
outcomes for all students by promoting the development and enactment of empowering academic
settings that are able to accommodate diverse needs and the mapping of targeted engagement, and
subsequent intervention, in ways that promote sustainable learning outcomes.