School location linked to NAPLAN results – and inequality has increased Australia-wide since NAPLAN began

28 November 2018

  • New Macquarie University research finds a school’s location is becoming increasingly important for NAPLAN results
  • The study is the first localised spatial analysis of educational differences between schools across an entire country
  • Findings show educational differences have increased since the first NAPLAN – between schools in different areas, in cities, and between regional and metropolitan areas of Australia
  • Results within cities have become more geographically polarised

NAPLAN outcomes clearly align to socio-economic advantage of the suburb the school is located in, according to new Macquarie University research published in Geographical Research today.

The researchers analysed every school’s Grade 5 NAPLAN results from 2008 to 2016, using mapping software. The team found that above average and below average school results are increasingly concentrated in different parts of every city (see diagrams below). Further, non-government schools performed better than public schools in disadvantaged areas.

“The results reflect a widening spatial divide within Australia’s cities in terms of socioeconomic characteristics, such as parents’ education levels, incomes, and occupations,” said Professor Nick Parr from Macquarie University’s Department of Management, one of the study’s authors.

“Our findings show the area a school is based in has more bearing on NAPLAN results than whether the school is public or private,” said lead author Crichton Smith, a PhD candidate at Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business and Economics.

“The results are confronting. Virtually no schools in any city’s advantaged suburbs are below the national average, and almost no schools in disadvantaged areas are above average.

“Education quality should not be limited by a school’s location. Unfortunately the location-based divide has increased since NAPLAN began.

“With 10 years of NAPLAN results now available, it is difficult to see a policy solution to bridge a gap that is so wide, and growing. As it stands, those children whose families lack the means to live in, and more so for those living outside of the cities or send them to schools in advantaged areas; disadvantaged areas are increasingly missing out.”  

The study is the world’s first school-level spatial analysis of educational differences across an entire country, and confirms a disadvantage across rural and regional Australia.

“We found significant differences between towns of different sizes. The proportion of both government and non-government schools with below average NAPLAN results increases as schools become more remote from major cities,” said Professor Parr.

“Across remote Australia, just 20 schools had above average NAPLAN results, compared with over 200 schools below average.”

The findings provide evidence of Australia’s spatial educational inequality – and demonstrate that geographical information systems can be used to identify clustering patterns.

“We’ve shown NAPLAN can be used in a positive way by providing evidence of Australia’s increasingly observable spatial educational inequality,” added Smith.

“It doesn’t matter who owns the school, it’s where the school is located that matters”.

Parr N, Smith C, and Muhidin S. Mapping schools’ NAPLAN results: a spatial inequality of school outcomes in Australia. Geographical Research. November 2018. doi: 10.1111/1745-5871.12317

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