‘Creating ghettos’: Academic streaming in school makes behaviour worse

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An education academic has taken aim at schools that stream students on their academic ability, saying it creates ghettos of poorly behaved children confined to one classroom.

The comments were made during a Senate inquiry investigating increasing disruption in classrooms across the country after the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ranked Australian classrooms among the most disorderly in the world.

The OECD has ranked Australia’s classrooms as among the most disruptive in the world.Credit: Fairfax Media

Queensland University of Technology professor Linda Graham told the inquiry on Thursday that the practice of segregating academically struggling children in high school was not helping behaviour.

“So academic streaming, grouping by class and so on, we know that is not good for students’ learning,” she said.

“What it does also do is create ghettos and so what happens, your casual teachers, your early career teachers, they get put on those classes.”

She has conducted several studies looking at children with behavioural issues in schools which had found that stemmed from struggling with basic literacy skills. She said teachers could treat a child as having a behaviour problem when they actually had a learning problem.

“When children cannot progress at the same rate as their peers, it creates so many other problems,” she said.

“Imagine being in a classroom from 9am to 3pm and everything is white noise.”

Catholic School Parents Australia’s Carmel Nash told the inquiry some parents who had had a bad experience of school themselves were often not engaged in their children’s learning.

She believed what parents did outside the six hours a child was at school was one of the biggest influencing factors when it came to behaviour in class.

“Everybody loves their kids and wants them to do well, but some people don’t know how to do that and don’t know what matters at home,” she said.

When she surveyed parents about their views on disruption, she said the overwhelming view was that other parents needed to take responsibility for their children’s behaviour.

“I was surprised; there was very little teacher blaming, it was about systemic issues and parents not taking on their responsibility,” she said.

Australian Secondary Principals’ Association’s Robyn Thorpe said there was a lack of funding for taking students who struggled out of the normal classroom environment and giving them more personalised help, while parents were also struggling.

“We have parents come to us and say, ‘I don’t know what to do about their gaming addiction, they’re up all night’ … parents feel quite disempowered to actually address the non-compliance of their children,” she said.

Thorpe, who works as a principal in the Northern Territory, said other parents were very defensive of their children when told about disruptive behaviour and often did not believe the principal when confronted about it.

“In fact, they’re demanding to see the CCTV footage for themselves, to actually confirm that their child has been involved in disruptive behaviour,” she said.

President of the Principals’ Association Andrew Pierpoint said university students studying to be teachers should spend more of their time in schools, not in lecture halls at university.

“There is basic classroom management, let’s call it classroom management 101. Much of that would have been developed from university lectures from when they were teachers, which would have been some period of time ago, it doesn’t reflect the realities of 21st century classrooms,” he said.

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